Bloom’s precisely observed, rhetorically nervy stories sometimes strain our credulity—but they burrow unerringly into her...




A second collection of eight gritty, wisecracking, rudely contemporary urban stories from the Connecticut psychotherapist and highly praised author (Come to Me, 1993; Love Invents Us, 1997).

Bloom specializes in relationships threatened by their participants’ retreats into their own interiors or destroyed by enigmatic acts of both God and wayward mortals. Her characters are sharp-witted, imperturbably bitchy (often Jewish) (mostly) women who say things like “Happy Day of Atonement” and “straight men are for putting up sheetrock.” And, in her most fully imagined pieces, she briskly pulls rugs out from under people crazy enough to think their lives are ordered and secure. There’s the title story’s single mother who meekly accepts accumulating evidence that her tomboyish daughter was meant to be a boy—and makes arrangements for the “gender surgery” that will alter her own life just as radically. There’s also the rootless black man of the paired stories “Night Vision” and “Light into Dark,” whose single teenaged sexual experience with his white stepmother reshapes his life into a futile quest for commitment and self-respect. Even more affecting are the adulterous narrator of “The Gates Are Closing,” wryly monitoring her married lover’s gradual surrender to the ravages of Parkinson’s; the bereaved mother who finds through a Pediatric Volunteer Program an unlikely focus for her frustrated instinctual love (in “Stars at Elbow and Foot”); and especially the unconventional triangle of the superb “Rowing to Eden,” an icily compact story that accomplishes, in scarcely 20 pages, replete and resonant characterizations of a dispassionate cancer victim, her helplessly sweet and attentive husband, and the lesbian friend whose selfless love for them both breeds in her a strength beyond their understanding.

Bloom’s precisely observed, rhetorically nervy stories sometimes strain our credulity—but they burrow unerringly into her people’s damaged hearts and worried minds with intensity every bit as compassionate as it is clinical.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-50268-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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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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