For readers who persevere, rewards lurk beneath the metafictional façade.




Argentina-born novelist Borinsky (All Night Movie, 2002, etc.) returns with a collection of arch, opaque stories, ranging from two-and-a-half pages to one line.

Presumably set in Buenos Aires, these 88 mini-morality tales caution against trusting either the opposite sex or a country’s current ruling junta. In “Love Song,” a wife who leaves her husband for a baker is forced to return as her ex’s domestic servant when, aided by global economics, the baker goes out of business. Her new husband dies of “the well-known disease . . . after treating an albino canary’s infected pimple”—and things only get more obscure from there. In the longest and most conventional story, “The Contest,” a woman wins a “Voyage of the Millennium,” but kills herself when she learns that she can’t take her beloved cats on the trip. The shorter stories are even more overtly puzzling, frequently (but not consistently) disdaining such niceties as capitalization. The narrator of “haven’t I seen that face before?” frets over her lover’s haste to return home, knowing that his wife will confront him with evidence of the affair, perhaps supplied by the mistress herself. In “a strong hand,” the contemptuous description of a man who fails to conform to consumer culture ends with the chilling observation that he’ll make an ideal torture victim. “Let’s Not Be Selfish” urges older women to dress like teenagers, and vice-versa, in order to take social pressure off both groups. Students of translation will refer frequently to the original Spanish in this dual-language edition to see what interesting liberties have been taken in the facing-page English version. Borinsky (Latin American and Comparative Literature/Boston Univ.), who collaborated on the translation, argues in her preface that a less literal rendering was necessary to preserve her irony in English.

For readers who persevere, rewards lurk beneath the metafictional façade.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2007

ISBN: 0-299-21600-4

Page Count: 196

Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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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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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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