THE LOVE OF A GOOD WOMAN

STORIES

The Canadian Chekhov’s ninth book (after her recent triumphs Friend of My Youth, 1990, and Open Secrets, 1994) contains eight long stories that resemble Munro’s mature work in their tendency toward leisurely development and complex narrative. As always, their province is both the author’s native Ontario and the experiential territory denoted by the title of an earlier volume, Lives of Girls and Women (1973). The inchoate understanding possessed by husbands and wives whose intimacies never fully accommodate their unshared histories, siblings who have inevitably endured (or imagined) imbalance and unfairness, parents and children unhinged by the emotional variations to which their one flesh is susceptible—all are central to these elaborately woven tales of people’s disillusioning plunges into the depths of their own and others’ lives. But this time around the stories seem overloaded, distended by successive disclosures that move us unconvincingly away from their thematic and structural centers. In “Save the Reaper,” for instance, essential details about its characters’ relationships are withheld for so long that we never empathize sufficiently with the harried, lonely grandmother whose momentary impulsiveness endangers her family and herself. “My Mother’s Dream” reimagines from a daughter’s perspective—and in almost ludicrously melodramatic terms—her mother’s ordeal among her late husband’s controlling family. “The Children stay” overemphatically delineates the moral unraveling of an adulterous wife who unwisely makes “the choice of fantasy.” To be fair, a few of the stories are, even by Munro’s high standards, exemplary: notably “Cortes Island,” in which a bored housewife’s vivid imagination may or may not have exaggerated incriminating facts about her odd landlords; and especially the fine title novella, about the death of a small-town optometrist, the extremities to which well-meaning ordinary people are driven, and the burden helplessly shouldered by a “practical nurse” (there’s a lovely irony therein) caught between “Trying to ease people. Trying to be good” and telling what she wishes not to know. A mixed bag, then, through which we too often sense Munro straining to extend and intensify her stories. The unfortunate result is her weakest book yet.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-375-40395-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more