Admirable in its broad sweep of Mason’s estimable career as a writer and likely as good a gathering as there could be—if,...

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PATCHWORK

A sturdy introduction to the multifaceted work of Kentucky laureate Mason (Nancy Culpepper: Stories, 2006, etc.).

People are always going places they don’t want to go in Mason’s tales. In her lovely novel In Country, it’s a mother traveling, much against her will at first, with her granddaughter and her son’s best friend to the wall in Washington to reckon with the death of her boy in Vietnam: “Mamaw lets loose a stream as loud as a cow’s. This trip is crazy. It reminds Sam of that Chevy Chase movie about a family on vacation, with an old woman tagging along.” In “Shiloh,” the 1982 story that announced Mason’s arrival on the literary scene, it’s a reluctant wife finally giving in to her mother-in-law’s demand that she visit the Tennessee battlefield, where her husband learns that he’s been missing a big part of their story: “History was always just names and dates to him….And the real inner workings of a marriage, like most of history, have escaped him.” Of course, sometimes people do go places they mean to: There’s Paducah, Kentucky, for instance, “a provincial town with a funny name, but here in the western end of the state it was never an inconsequential place.” Whether story or novel, essay or review, Mason’s work is characterized by closely realized detail, sympathy with the players involved, and, usually, sharp but good-natured humor: When a Kentucky girl decides to take a year off from school in the story “Bumblebees” and head off to exotic Lexington, she says, “Look, think of this as junior year abroad, O.K.? Except I won’t be speaking French.” Mason’s reader-friendly appreciation of Mark Twain, a writer she much resembles, also rings absolutely true: “He’s very contemporary, I think, because in his time he saw so far ahead, as if he were looking right at us.”

Admirable in its broad sweep of Mason’s estimable career as a writer and likely as good a gathering as there could be—if, for a fan, too short.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8131-7545-4

Page Count: 478

Publisher: Univ. Press of Kentucky

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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