Percy does well by his trapped, uncomprehending men, but his endings are messy and inconclusive.

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STORIES

Ten stories about otherwise ordinary lives haunted by violence and death—Percy’s second collection, following The Language of Elk (2006).

All the stories are set in the high desert country of central Oregon; the harsh landscape defines the characters. The men are hunters and raise their sons to hunt, not always successfully. In “The Woods,” Justin resents his father for the hunting lessons; years later, on a scary hunting trip involving two mysterious corpses, roles are reversed as son consoles fearful father. Josh and Gordon, high-school students in the prize-winning title story, love to hunt deer, but their fathers, National Guard reservists, have left for Iraq. In a story that pulses with violence, the local army recruiter is the bad guy. Memories of killing Iraqis surface in “Somebody is Going to Have to Pay for This” and “Meltdown”; Stephen and Darren, in almost identical circumstances, killed Iraqis at point-blank range. The puzzle is why the latter, near-future story, a study of Darren’s anomie, needs the spectacular embellishment of a nuclear reactor meltdown. In two stories, “The Caves in Oregon” and “The Faulty Builder,” death happens in the womb, with troubling consequences for two married couples. Less troubling for Jim, the lonely old hunter and taxidermist in “The Killing,” is shooting his daughter’s abusive boyfriend: “His entire adult life he has been surrounded by dead things.” Another lonely old man, Gerald, has always lusted after his brother’s wife (“Whisper”). It’s unfortunate that this credible tale of sibling rivalry should take a sudden turn into melodrama. Blood swirls through these stories. Even a blackberry pie looks “a little like congealed blood,” so it’s no surprise that Joey, the young dairy farmer in “Crash,” considering suicide after his wife’s accidental death, visualizes the blood pouring out of him.

Percy does well by his trapped, uncomprehending men, but his endings are messy and inconclusive.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-55597-485-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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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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