OPEN SECRETS

STORIES

With a few strokes of her pen, Munro (Friend of My Youth, 1990) has the unerring ability to familiarize us with a foreign country or the entire life of another person. Even if you've already read these latest stories in the New Yorker, you'll want to luxuriate in their gorgeous prose again and again. Munro's women must take repeated flight from the harshness of their realities — bad spinsterhood, worse marriages — into their imaginations, where wrongs are alternately redressed or allowed to fester into self-doubt and guilt. Louisa, the protagonist of "Carried Away," is a small Canadian town's lonely librarian who receives an unexpected letter (one of many tantalizing missives sent and received in this complex, multilayered collection) from the equally desolate Jack, a WW I soldier whom she has never met but who remembers her from the library and woos her through the mail. After the war, he never introduces himself in person, and she reads in the newspaper of his betrayal and marriage to another woman. Jack continues to be the obsession of her thoughts and actions when his head is severed from his body in a horrific accident at the piano factory where he works and Louisa plunges into a "normal" life and marries the factory's owner. Years later, when an elderly Louisa thinks she is having a conversation with an elderly Jack in town, we realize that Jack's death or even Jack himself may be a figment of her imagination. Similarly, we aren't quite sure if an old bag lady in Victoria, B.C., was kidnapped in her youth by Albanian tribesmen ("An Albanian Virgin"), if a woman in the 1850s Canadian wilderness actually murdered her husband, who may or may not have been abusing her ("A Wilderness Station"), or if a teenager who disappeared from a hike was murdered, kidnapped, or simply ran off with a guy she had the hots for ("Open Secrets"). In Munro's hands, fact is a stepsister to fiction and reality may have nothing in common with life's truths. Storytelling made essential by one of the true pros.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-43575-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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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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