A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY by Russell Banks

Book Quote:

“After lying in bed awake for an hour, Connie finally pushes back the blankets and gets up. It’s still dark. He’s barefoot and shivering in his boxers and T-shirt and a little hungover from one beer too many at 20 Main last night. He snaps the bedside  lamp on and resets the thermostat from fifty-five to sixty-five. The burner makes a huffing sound and the fan kicks in, and the smell of kerosene drifts through the trailer. He pats his new hearing aids into place and peers out the bedroom window. Snow is falling across a pale splash of lamplight on the lawn. It’s a week into April and it ought to be rain, but Connie is glad it’s snow. He removes his .45-caliber Colt service pistol from the drawer of the bedside table, checks to be sure it’s loaded and lays it on the dresser.”

from A Permanent Member of the Family

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (DEC 19, 2013)

I have long been an admirer or Russell Banks’ work. This collection of short stories is excellent and many of them kept me riveted for the duration. The collection consists of twelve stories, most of them about the families we have and the families we make. Others are about the figments of truth that make up our experiences while we decide what is worth believing and what is not. The stories take place in different geographic settings from Florida to upstate New York to Portland, Oregon.

There are a few that are my favorites and will stay with me for a long while. One of the ones I loved was Former Marine. Connie is a former Marine who raised his three sons by himself after his wife deserted the family. He is now without work. “Let go. Like he was a helium-filled balloon on a string, he tells people.” What he always wanted was to be able to take care of himself and his family “because you’re never an ex-father, any more than you’re an ex-Marine.” Desperate times require desperate measures.

In Permanent Family, a family dog holds the memory of permanence and stability intact after a divorce. She was “the last remaining link to our pre-separation… to a time of relative innocence, when all of us, but especially the girls, still believed in the permanence of our family unit, our pack.”

Big Dog is about Erik’s winning a MacArthur genius award for his giant art installations of kitchens and bathrooms. He is told not to tell anyone about the award until it is formally announced. However, at a dinner party that night with close friends, he spills the news. What occurs is far from what he expected.

Blue is my favorite story in the collection. Ventana Robertson has saved up $3,500 to buy a used car. She arrives at the car lot at 6 p.m. They close at 6:30. Forgetting Ventana is still in the lot, the salesmen lock up the fenced yard. Ventana finds herself locked in with a vicious pit bull on her scent. She scrambles on top of a car to get away from him. What happens that night is heart-stopping.

I also loved Searching for Veronica, a story that takes place in a bar in the Portland Airport. Russell sits down in the airport bar and Dorothy, a woman he doesn’t know, proceeds to tell him the story of Veronica, a drug-addicted young woman who once lived with her and her daughter Helene many years ago. Dorothy had to kick Veronica out because of her drug use and now thinks that she is dead. Consequently, she visits the morgue every time an unidentified female body shows up. Is the story true or is it something that’s been manufactured by an addled mind?

Several of the stories deal with the obtuse meanings of truth and what exactly is happening. There are narratives that come out of addiction, some that are about starting a new life, and others that result from finding oneself a witness to a horrific deed. All of these push the meaning of truth to the limit. Additionally, there is almost always a picture of family, of one sort or another, that governs these tales.

Banks has a wonderful way with words and the stories, which can be dark, are often balanced with humor or questioning. I found this book one of the best short story collections I have read this year. I highly recommend it.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 13 readers
PUBLISHER: Ecco (November 12, 2013)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Russell Banks
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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December 19, 2013 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: 2013 Favorites, Florida, NE & New York, Short Stories, US Northwest

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