THE BEGGAR MAID

STORIES OF FLO & ROSE

In these ten interlinked, chronological stories about Ontario girl Rose, Munro—like Joyce Carol Oates in her early novels—penetrates, with bowsprit knowledge and (unlike Oates) irrepressible tenderness, the iced-in continent of the working-class poor and the erratic course of those who get away. "We sweat for our pretensions," muses Rose, whose 1930s aspirations—toward high school, university—are mocked by stepmother Flo, who pegs out the safety of home, scornful of anyone trying to be other than she was intended to be. But Rose persists, and, after the curiously passive acceptance of her bitterly withdrawn father's approaching death, she seems posessed of a lust, later edged but still imperative, to simply "see what will happen." Anchorless, but learning new roles in an alien culture, she impulsively accepts the marriage proposal of grad-student Patrick, who—in his own minor rebellion against his wealthy family—is infatuated with his image of Rose as the poor, submissive "beggar maid." They will divorce (Rose will later be startled by his hatred), and Rose, now a jill-of-all-trades in radio, will play at domesticity for the brief time her young daughter lives with her. And subsequent loves collapse through missed connections or a too-honest word or two. So Rose is now "adept at disguises." In the last stories Rose returns to her childhood home, to a rapidly deteriorating, savage Flo—and, in a reunion with an old classmate (who's also "resigned to living in bafflement"), she finds understanding. . . and forgiveness. A bountifully compassionate and moving book, some portions of which have appeared in The New Yorker.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 1979

ISBN: 0099458357

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1979

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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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