A Permanent Member of the Family

A Permanent Member of the Family

3.5 2
by Russell Banks
     
 

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Suffused with Russell Banks’s trademark lyricism and reckless humor, the twelve stories in A Permanent Member of the Family examine the myriad ways we try—and sometimes fail—to connect with one another, as we seek a home in the world.

In the title story, a father looks back on the legend of the cherished family dog whose divided

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Overview

Suffused with Russell Banks’s trademark lyricism and reckless humor, the twelve stories in A Permanent Member of the Family examine the myriad ways we try—and sometimes fail—to connect with one another, as we seek a home in the world.

In the title story, a father looks back on the legend of the cherished family dog whose divided loyalties mirrored the fragmenting of his marriage. “A Former Marine” asks, to chilling effect, if one can ever stop being a parent. And in the haunting, evocative “Veronica,” a mysterious woman searching for her daughter may not be who she claims she is.

Moving between the stark beauty of winter in upstate New York and the seductive heat of Florida, Banks’s acute and penetrating collection demonstrates the range and virtuosity of both his narrative prowess and his startlingly panoramic vision of modern American life.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
★ 10/15/2013
Pulitzer Prize finalist and multi-award-winning author Banks (Lost Memory of Skin) returns to writing in the short form, where he seems most at home. The characters inhabiting these 12 moody tales fall apart, their relationships go sour, and hope fades. One of the strongest stories introduces the collection. "Former Marine" tells about 70-year-old Conrad, a proud former marine, widower, and food stamp and Medicaid recipient, living in a trailer, who resorts to an extreme solution to manage his dwindling resources. Equally powerful is "Blue," a poignant tale about Ventana, a middle-age black woman who is locked inside a parked car lot and spends the night trapped on the roof of a vehicle in an attempt to save herself from the growling guard dog. "Transplant" depicts Howard Blume, who is recuperating from a heart transplant. He is visited by the wife of the man whose heart Howard has received. In the title piece, the narrator strongly declares he wants to set the record straight about what happened 35 years ago and what led him to harm a member of the family. VERDICT In this remarkably affecting collection, Banks introduces readers to a wide range of personalities and hardships and very few triumphs. An elegant and incisive writer, Banks continues to deliver stories full of surprise and contradictory elements. [See Prepub Alert, 5/20/13.]—Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Palisade, CO
The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
In the more powerful tales, Mr. Banks uses his sturdy gifts as a writer—his plain-spoken language, his sympathy for the downtrodden and depressed, his eye for detail…to give us visceral portraits of people trying to make sense of the past and the present.
The New York Times Book Review - Gary Krist
Banks is a master of the kind of old-school, unadorned realism that hasn't really been the fashion in short stories since the days of Raymond Carver. But here he executes it with a psychological precision that would be the envy of any of the latter-day fabulists or word-drunk genre-benders currently in vogue. And while most of these stories cleave to his signature plain-spoken aesthetic, there's still room in this sly collection for a few surprises, including a grisly, satiric parable called "Blue." I won't give away any details, but I will say that after reading it, you may never set foot in a used-car lot again.
Publishers Weekly
09/09/2013
While well-known for his impressive novelistic output, Banks (Continental Drift) is also a prolific short story writer. This collection, his sixth, is made up of four never-before-published stories. The first, “Former Marine,” sets the exhausted, elegiac tone for the book. It features Connie, an aging ex-Marine who refers to himself as “the Retiree,” even though he was laid off: “It’s the economy’s fault. And the fault of whoever the hell’s in charge of it.” Connie robs banks, badly, to make ends meet, but they (inevitably) don’t. In the fine story “Transplant,” Howard Blume is recovering from a heart transplant when the deceased donor’s wife asks to meet him, to listen (with a stethoscope!) to Blume’s new heart. In the most subversive story of the collection, “Snowbirds,” a man dies of a heart attack in Florida, where he and his wife are spending the winter. Isabel, his widow, is nonplussed; in fact, she appears somewhat delighted at the prospect of a new life in the sun. While these exquisitely crafted stories are highly personal, they are also permeated by a sense of sadness about the death of the American dream, as the country struggles, out of work and seemingly out of hope. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (Nov.)
Daily Beast
“These characters are all broken in wonderfully literary ways (’When a terrible thing happens, and it’s your own damn fault, there’s no closure, he thought. Whatever happened, you live with it.’) but Banks is primarily concerned with telling a good story, and the pages fly by.”
Boston Globe
“It’s a gift to experience such expertly evoked pathos, to see how Banks meticulously picks out and exposes the strands of his characters’ muddled and suppressed feelings.”
Los Angeles Times
“[T]he writing rings with the weight of decisions made in constrained circumstances, decisions that become more moving because of how common they are… There’s a reflective quality, a sense of choices made, of consequence, in which redemption and resignation may be two sides of the same coin.”
Financial Times
“His prose is strong and meaty - high in content, low in pretension - and he’s a dab hand at credible dialogue.”
People
“Banks uses simple language to reveal complex despair in characters you’ll recognize from the coffee shop nearest you.”
Associated Press Staff
“Unlike many short stories, Banks tells gratifying, sewed-up tales. Readers may be left wanting more from the characters he creates, but he doesn’t leave his stories unraveled. True to form, he ties them up, not neatly, but thoroughly and satisfyingly.”
New York Times
“Mr. Banks uses his sturdy gifts as a writer — his plain-spoken language, his sympathy for the downtrodden and depressed, his eye for detail (those unstrapped shoes, flipped off Ellen’s feet) — to give us visceral portraits of people trying to make sense of the past and the present.”
Chicago Tribune
“All of these are good, strong, perceptive stories about individuals trying to make connections or find comfort in a world where they feel neither necessary nor desired.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[V]irtually all are remarkable sharp-focus snapshots of the giddy whirl and tragicomedy of modern-day American life.”
Oregonian
“[T]hese stories are straightforward, honest accounts of lives in moments of small change, poignant and gorgeous and nearly heartbreaking in their understatement.”
Roanoke Times
“Difficult to put down and even more difficult to forget.”
NPR (All Things Considered)
“The discoveries made by most of the other characters in this collection remain, by contrast, rather dark. But taken together, these stories comprise a richly composed tribute to life.”
Real Simple magazine
“[O]ne of the best books I’ve read in years”
Booklist
A resounding collection by an essential American writer.
New York Journal of Books
“…an exceptionally well-written, engaging, unified collection”
Shelf Awareness
“…Banks’s short fiction is relentlessly realistic, never cynical, and always attentive to the human condition.”
New York Times Book Review
Banks is a master of the kind of old-school, unadorned realism that hasn’t really been the fashion in short stories since the days of Raymond Carver.
Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-15
One of America's great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers. Don't expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn't call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic "Former Marine" depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he's too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in "Christmas Party," Big Dog" and "The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of "The Invisible Parrot" transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about "Searching for Veronica" from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since "the only safe response is to quarantine yourself." Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, "Blue" and "The Green Door." Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand--which is why widowed Isabel's fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in "SnowBirds," albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane's bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects. Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062096746
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
11/12/2013
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
41,685
File size:
0 MB

Meet the Author

Russell Banks is one of America's most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Common Wealth Award for Literature. He lives in upstate New York and Miami, Florida.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
March 28, 1940
Place of Birth:
Newton, Massachusetts

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