Malls, teenage pregnancy, casual sex, film studies: all related to the troubled equation between sex and love, which Erian...




Some of the nine stories in this debut collection have appeared in literary magazines, and they have the some of the subjects common in such venues: gender issues, bad girl sexuality, weird families, slacker students. But Erian fails to distinguish herself stylistically, offering instead slight fictions that can seem downright generic.

At her best, Erian discovers the brutality of love not just in sexual relations but in the twisted things family members do to one another. The fine, uncharacteristic "Still Life With Plaster" is told from a young girl's point of view; she and her brother live with their grandparents while their divorced mother goes to school, and the old folks, while seemingly mean and cantankerous, are really quite loving and affectionate in their own unsophisticated way. The grown-up brother and sister in "When Animals Attack" are more explicitly brutal: they hate their mother so intensely that when she sends a young runaway to seek their help, they badger him and encourage him to run away again. Most of Erian's pieces involve young women trying to figure out sex and the politics of desire: the older, promiscuous college student in "Standing Up to the Superpowers" uses her sexuality to tease professors into good grades—but fails anyway; the chubby 13-year-old in "Alcatraz" imagines that the popular boy across the street really loves her because she has sex with him almost daily, even though he won't look at her in school; and the promiscuous American exchange student in "Lass" marries the son of a famous Irish novelist, then develops a dangerous attraction with the father. In the title story, a ne'er-do-well couple work in a movie theater, and the woman fears that she has breast cancer.

Malls, teenage pregnancy, casual sex, film studies: all related to the troubled equation between sex and love, which Erian explores with a rookie's talents. Competent but not yet anything special.

Pub Date: April 13, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-50478-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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