Like modern Grimm fairy tales, the stories in this volume are cautionary and haunting.

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SUICIDE WOODS

Percy’s (The Dark Net, 2017, etc.) story collection explores a natural world, tired of being misunderstood and threatened by humans, that is finally threatening back.

The humans in these tales are beaten down by the financial collapse, the threat of disease, the mind-numbing routines of their lives; and the wilderness, kept at bay for so long by our construction and our expansion and our money, has begun to creep in at the edges, swallowing those who are lost and stretching, hungry, toward the center of our world. In “Heart of a Bear,” a bear begins to assimilate to human life only to face tragedy and loss that drive him back to the wild. In “Writs of Possession,” an unfinished luxury subdivision becomes the playground for wild animals as the human inhabitants are evicted one by one. There are small offerings of hope: the suggestion that a pair of trespassing children would have been welcomed, fed, and adopted by a homeowner in "Writs of Possession," for instance, or the ending of “The Balloon,” where, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, two misfits may find solace in each other. For the most part, though, these stories echo with paranoia and loss; there is, Percy suggests, a hollow, empty core beneath the trappings of our modern lives. As he describes a main character in “The Uncharted”: “His friends call him a warrior poet. They have misinterpreted his emptiness for depth.” Despite the loneliness and violence of these tales, however, there is icy beauty in Percy’s language, even as he describes depression: “We take Xanax. We take Lorazapam. We take Prozac and Paxil and Zoloft. Dozens of little moons dissolve inside us and make our brains deaden and our hearts fizz. Sometimes we are so sad we do not move.” This beauty redeems the vision of darkness that he offers—held out before us, these words suggest that there is still something worth saving in our broken human existence.

Like modern Grimm fairy tales, the stories in this volume are cautionary and haunting.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64445-006-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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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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