A deft collection of spooky fables that pivots from classic stylings to postmodern irony.

WHITE DIALOGUES

Eleven eerie, dryly witty short stories by novelist Sims (A Questionable Shape, 2013).

There are some clever literary stunts scattered throughout this collection, but there’s no doubting the inventiveness of the author’s prose, pacing, and ability to build tension and occasionally dispel it with laughter. The first entry, “House-sitting,” is a gothic nightmare in the vein of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” about a housesitter driving themselves insane with the specters of ghosts. “You keep thinking: you are living in the cabin of a madman,” writes Sims. “You wonder: how long can you live in a madman’s home without going mad yourself?” "The Bookcase" is a very meta exercise in which a mean-spirited scrap between neighbors becomes fodder for an episode of Ira Glass’ This American Life. “Ekphrases” is another experimental work, one that catalogs works of art completed at “the edge of death.” What seems to be a trifle in “Two Guys Watching Cujo on Mute” turns out to be some emotional stories traded between friends as the titular film plays out in the background. There’s a travelogue of monsters in “City of Wolfmen” and a Kafka-esque play on kaiju movies in “Destroy All Monsters.” Sims goes down the gothic horror road again in the two-pager “A Premonition,” which begins with the delicious line, “It was late and I was beset by a black wind.” There’s a final ghost story of sorts in “Radical Closure,” in which a writer ruminates on the nature of death. The collection ends with an eerie multimedia work that mashes up the film criticism of Lebanese author Jalal Toufic, images from the Hitchcock film Rear Window, and the spiraling madness of a film critic choking on his own critique. Touché.

A deft collection of spooky fables that pivots from classic stylings to postmodern irony.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-937512-63-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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