cover image A Permanent Member of the Family

A Permanent Member of the Family

Russell Banks. Ecco, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-185765-2

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.)