Brief, macabre stories that twist our obsessions with animals and our own thoughts. Like Poe for the new millennium.

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THE HOUSEGUEST

The borders between the animal, human, and spirit worlds are constantly breached in these creepy magical realist tales of grief and obsession.

Dávila’s 12 short stories begin with “Moses and Gaspar,” about Señor Kraus, who returns to his dead brother’s apartment to collect the dogs he left behind. Moses and Gaspar become a complicated “inheritance from [his] unforgettable brother.” Many creatures are more human than animal in Dávila’s work, and the dogs' “screams” disturb Kraus’ neighbors, while Kraus becomes increasingly animalistic. The dogs' grief comes to wreck his life. Similar connections to the animal world are found in other stories; “The Houseguest” features a jealous wife and an unnamed visitor her husband brings home: “His nourishment was limited entirely to meat; he wouldn’t touch anything else.” He hovers over the sleeping members of the house, watching them, until eventually the wife is driven mad. In “Oscar,” a family lives to serve a dictatorial creature who controls all who enter the house from his place in the cellar: “He was the first to eat and allowed no one to taste their food before him. He knew everything, saw everything. He shook the iron door of the cellar with fury, and shouted when something displeased him. At night he indicated, with sounds and signs of objection, when he wanted them to go to bed, and often when he wanted them to get up. He ate large amounts, voraciously, and without enjoyment…grotesquely.” Dávila’s animals are humanized—familiar to anyone who has lived with a cat or a dog—but their holds on the humans of her stories are tyrannical. Other tales deal with the power of the imagination to create real fear: “Fragment of a Diary” is a series of meditations on degrees of pain by a character who wishes to develop tolerance as an art. In “End of a Struggle,” Durán witnesses himself walking by with a former lover, then follows to see his other life.

Brief, macabre stories that twist our obsessions with animals and our own thoughts. Like Poe for the new millennium.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2821-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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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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  • 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

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