A heavy-hitting emotional exploration of the ways lives can change in single moments.

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HEART ATTACK WATCH

Foster (God Is an Astronaut, 2014) explores people and relationships on the razor’s edge in this collection of moving short stories.

In each of the seven stories that make up this slim volume, the author places the reader directly into a workaday reality on the very cusp of changing forever. In the opening story, “The Theory of Clouds,” a couple’s secret is discovered when a group of outsiders arrives in a small, suspicious town. The title story zeroes in on a woman looking for direction while working the early shift at a local swimming pool. “The Place of the Holy” takes place at a home-turned–women’s shelter, where a young girl struggles to get the attention she needs from her mother. In concise and moving stories, the author creates compelling and unique characters with rich histories in the space of just a few pages. But what makes this collection electric is the endings. Each story cuts away just as it becomes clear that these people’s worlds have been changed, that the breaking point has been reached, and that whatever happens next could determine the course of their lives. Foster leaves each story at the exact moment when the reader wants more, a decision that could be woefully disappointing if not for her masterful use of tension and language. These short stories are brief windows opening into private moments of hope, pain, and struggle, and the decision to leave the reader guessing about what happens next underlines the universality of such quiet, impactful experiences.

A heavy-hitting emotional exploration of the ways lives can change in single moments.

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-543-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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