LAST DAYS OF THE DOG-MEN

STORIES

A powerful debut collection of eight stories (two previously published in Story magazine) that are linked thematically: They're all about man and dog, though not in any sappy sense, and with no cute anthropomorphizing. In ``Bill,'' an octogenarian feels closer to her dying poodle than to her own family, and cooks up a grand feast the night before he's put to sleep; in ``Agnes of Bob,'' a childless widow realizes that her husband cared more about his dog, Bob, than about her, and the dog's presence reminds her of the emptiness in her marriage; in ``A Blessing,'' a pregnant woman is disabused of any cute notions about dogs when a trip to the country to buy one ends with an act of brutality. No sentimentality mars these gritty narratives. ``The Wake'' is a wildly implausible piece about a bachelor whose ex- girlfriend returns to him in a box via UPS. He's more concerned with the dead dog now rotting under his house than with her, his obsession offering a deliberately unsubtle correlative to a failed relationship. ``Seeing Eye,'' a vignette about a dog working for a blind man, compares its present life of responsibility to its former life roaming free on a farm. The full resonance of one of Watson's dominant themes (men-as-dogs, elemental in their needs, faithless in their couplings) emerges in the three best stories. ``The Retreat'' finds a few soon-to-be divorced men hiding out in the country, drinking, hunting, sloughing off responsibility. ``Kindred Spirits'' layers the metaphorical relationships in its story-within-a-story about a dog tracking a wild boar in the Florida swamp. The tale turns into a not very subtle parallel to the narrator's present cuckolding by his business partner. The title piece is an elegy to a dog-like life of wildness, freedom, animalism no longer available to men. Watson's muscular prose stands shoulder to shoulder with the best cracker realists, from Faulkner to Larry Brown. (Regional author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-393-03926-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1996

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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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