The inherent drama of an artist and his hereditary demons is muffled in this poorly organized work.

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CHEYENNE MADONNA

Seven linked stories dip in and out of the life of a Native American, a talented artist when he’s not drinking. 

Chuculate’s debut starts out well. For some historical/cultural perspective, he shows us four Cheyennes, thrilled by their discovery of the Gulf of Mexico. "Galveston Bay, 1826" is punchy and resonant. The next story ("YoYo"), set in 1970s Oklahoma, introduces the future artist, Jordan Coolwater. He’s in seventh grade, living in a small town with his impoverished grandparents. They have new neighbors, well-to-do black professionals. Their daughter YoYo is a sassy track star. She and Jordan hit it off. Class, race, prejudice, puberty—Chuculate finesses it all beautifully. Then come superficial character sketches of two uncles. Uncle Tony ("Winter, 1979") is a vicious racist; Johnson L. Freebird ("A Famous Indian Artist") is a hard-drinking blowhard. Neither story finds its rhythm. The longest story in this slim collection is "Dear Shorty," a rambling account of Jordan’s relationship with his father. Shorty is a far-gone alcoholic, a barber before he got the shakes and his wife left him. Jordan’s now a young man, with a joshing, nonjudgmental attitude toward Shorty. Ironically, their only bond is the bottle: “You can trace the progression of alcoholism in my family like a flying arrow and I’m the bull’s-eye.” A story that should have kept a tight focus on father and son veers off into Jordan’s troubles with the law and his escape from an Indian Detention Center. The focus in "Under the Red Star of Mars" is on Jordan’s future wife, Lisa Old Bull, about to ditch her abusive black boyfriend. Jordan, who’s selling everything at his breakthrough show, is a welcome contrast. In the title story, they’re married, but their baby is stillborn; Lisa leaves him and, in an ominous echo of Shorty’s affliction, the “tremors” stop Jordan painting and sculpting.

The inherent drama of an artist and his hereditary demons is muffled in this poorly organized work.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-57423-216-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Black Sparrow/Godine

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

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THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS

STORIES

A gathering of short stories by an ascended master of the form.

Best known for mega-bestselling horror yarns, King (Finders Keepers, 2015, etc.) has been writing short stories for a very long time, moving among genres and honing his craft. This gathering of 20 stories, about half previously published and half new, speaks to King’s considerable abilities as a writer of genre fiction who manages to expand and improve the genre as he works; certainly no one has invested ordinary reality and ordinary objects with as much creepiness as King, mostly things that move (cars, kid’s scooters, Ferris wheels). Some stories would not have been out of place in the pulp magazines of the 1940s and ’50s, with allowances for modern references (“Somewhere far off, a helicopter beats at the sky over the Gulf. The DEA looking for drug runners, the Judge supposes”). Pulpy though some stories are, the published pieces have noble pedigrees, having appeared in places such as Granta and The New Yorker. Many inhabit the same literary universe as Raymond Carver, whom King even name-checks in an extraordinarily clever tale of the multiple realities hidden in a simple Kindle device: “What else is there by Raymond Carver in the worlds of Ur? Is there one—or a dozen, or a thousand—where he quit smoking, lived to be 70, and wrote another half a dozen books?” Like Carver, King often populates his stories with blue-collar people who drink too much, worry about money, and mistrust everything and everyone: “Every time you see bright stuff, somebody turns on the rain machine. The bright stuff is never colorfast.” Best of all, lifting the curtain, King prefaces the stories with notes about how they came about (“This one had to be told, because I knew exactly what kind of language I wanted to use”). Those notes alone make this a must for aspiring writers.

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1167-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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