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Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014

Family Stories

Russell Banks explores human connection in a harsh world

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From a son’s massive saga of his father, Civil War firebrand John Brown, to his incisive new story collection, Russell Banks’ fiction has demonstrated acute insight into human relations in a myriad of intensely pressurized, comic and tragic permutations. Ostensibly about family in the broadest sense, the stories in A Permanent Member of the Family (Ecco) reveal how people strive upstream for human connection, an instinct often as haphazard as a windblown leaf.

The opening story, “Former Marine,” exposes the fault lines of desperate paternal pride and love to heartbreaking and shocking effect. The rest of the stories are comparatively muted in final effect, until the last story, but each illuminates the strange, comical and provisional beauty of human interaction in a seemingly harsh world.

The title piece concerns a divorcing family hanging onto the pet dog like a life buoy. Another follows a mother’s enigmatic search for her missing daughter. The closer is about a drunken family man fatefully attracted to a sex club. In these tales, nothing is quite as it seems, yet Banks, with no contrivance, sagely explores the deep corners of human nature.

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