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A Permanent Member of the Family Paperback – September 9, 2014

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (September 9, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061857661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061857669
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #453,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

After his darkly magnificent and compassionate novel, Lost Memory of Skin (2011), a Carnegie Medal finalist, Banks brings out his first story collection since The Angel on the Roof (2000). In a dozen woodcut tales—firmly incised, deeply grained—Banks distills the lives of people of unfailing grit enduring reduced or radically altered circumstances. “Former Marine” portrays a tough 70-year-old who has figured out a way to stay solvent that is guaranteed to freak out his three sons, each in law enforcement. Banks measures the geometry of family in the title story, a look back at a divorce and the fate of a beloved dog. The harsh grandeur of the Adirondacks provides the template for many of these flinty, funny, devastating stories. But Banks also takes us to molten Miami in masterfully intensifying tales. In “Snow Birds,” a new widow embraces scandalous liberation, while in the wrenching “Blue,” a thrifty and determined 47-year-old grandmother finds herself trapped in a ludicrous earthly hell, condemned by the dangerous conflation of life and television, dream and reality. A resounding collection by an essential American writer. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Every book by Banks is a must-read and consequently receives headliner publicity and A-list media attention. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

These stories were so good that I hated to see this book come to an end.
Pamela A. Poddany
Incredibly tight writing, excellent characters and plots, and a clear eye for modern conflicts.
Amazon Customer
I found this book one of the best short story collections I have read this year.
Bonnie Brody

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have long been an admirer of 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.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on November 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The author of bleak and brutal novels like CONTINENTAL DRIFT, AFFLICTION and, his most recent, LOST MEMORY OF SKIN, set among the homeless of Miami, Russell Banks is not someone to turn to if you are in search of lighthearted or uplifting fiction. Banks has devoted most of his productive, if too little appreciated, career to chilly tales portraying characters on the margins of society, in jeopardy of losing their tenuous grasp on something even approaching normal life. That’s certainly true of most of those who populate the 12 stories (six of them never before published) of his sixth collection, A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY.

“Former Marine,” the story that opens the book, is representative of Banks’s sensibility. The protagonist, Connie, who refers to himself as “the Retiree,” even though he’s “never officially retired from anything,” has lost his job at a Plattsburgh, New York auction house and now finds himself eking out a meager existence. His decision, explicable if not excusable, to turn to crime takes on a certain irony when we learn that his three sons all work in law enforcement.

The male characters in other stories find themselves in similarly untenable situations. In the title story, 35 years after the “family legend” it recounts, the narrator, a college professor teaching literature in a typical Banks setting, a “shabbily quaint village in southern New Hampshire,” describes the “joint custody” arrangement involving the family dog and its tragic ending, as he tries to “reclaim the story, to take it back and make it mine again.” “Christmas Party” revolves around the decision of Harold Bilodeau, an excavator, to leave his double-wide trailer to attend the party his ex-wife is throwing at the beautiful home her contractor husband has built for her.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Nashville Nancy on June 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover
These stories start off fine, and then it is as if Mr. Banks wants to end the tale in the worst and most abrupt way possible. It reminds me of telling a story to a child, and when you run out of story, you just say, "and they lived happily ever after, or the wolf ate them". In the case of these short stories, the endings are abrupt and tragic for the most part. I stopped reading at the one where the woman is locked in the car lot with a pit bull trying to get to her. The police are called- don't come (highly improbable), the TV news crew comes and films from outside the fence then leaves, (stupid and also improbable), and then the woman finally decides to get down from the car hoods to try to get out and escape. She sings to the dog and feels that he is now calm. She makes it to the fence, begins to climb, and then, guess what? The Pit Bull chomps her leg and drags her back in. How awful is that? And that is how most of these tales go. I found nothing redeeming in this book, it wasn't even vaguely good writing. Save your money.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Russell Banks’ short stories don’t rely on fireworks and bells and whistles; there’s no hint of post-modernism or genre bending in them. They’re deceptively simple and straightforward…even dispassionate in tone. Yet in many ways, they are morally complex; certainly, they pack a wallop.

Most of them focus on men of a certain age – time-tested, time-broken men who have struggled through broken dreams and damaged relationships.

In the eponymous story – the story of a post-divorce family – the aging dog is the last tenuous link to the two families. “None of us knew that she was helping us postpone our anger and need for blame – blame for the separation and divorce, or the destruction of the family unit, for our lost innocence.”

In Christmas Party, a cuckolded husband attends the holiday party of his ex-wife and her new husband and discovers that their veneer of amiability is strained during the time of good cheer. The story Snowbirds begins with the death of Isabel’s spouse George; her good friend Jane flies down to Florida to comfort her. Yet Isabel is in scant need of comforting and the focus shifts to Jane herself. “It made Jane believe for a moment that she could be fearless, as fearless as Isabel, that she could be reborn as someone else, as someone unformed, and that, like Isabel, she could become an adolescent girl again.”

Lost and Found is a beautifully-crafted story about a middle aged man, lonely in his marriage, who teetered on the brink of infidelity and “didn’t want to remember what I lost that night. And what I found.” The satiric story Blue – set in a used-car lot – is different type of story with shades of Stephen King.
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More About the Author

Russell Banks is the author of sixteen works of fiction, many of which depict seismic events in US history, such as the fictionalized journey of John Brown in Cloudsplitter. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous international prizes, and two of his novels-The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction-have been made into award-winning films. His forthcoming novel, The Reserve, will be published in early 2008. President of the International Parliament of Writers and former New York State Author, Banks lives in upstate New York.

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