Strange and lyrical with an acute sense of humor.

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First published in Ireland, Bennett’s meditative debut—rigorous, poetic, and often very funny—captures the rich inner life of a young woman living a mostly solitary existence in a remote coastal town.

An interior portrait in 20 fragments—some short-story length, others just a few sentences—this collection abandons conventional notions of plot altogether. Nothing much “happens” here; there is essentially no “action”—at least, not by any traditional definition of the term. Instead, Bennett presents a series of exquisitely detailed, deeply subjective, frequently hilarious monologues on the business of being alive. Despite her constant presence, we know very few biographical facts about our nameless heroine. But we see the way her mind works, and we get to know her—deeply, even intimately—through her observations. In “Morning, Noon & Night,” she recounts bits and pieces of a past romance (“We didn’t get along very well but this had no bearing whatsoever on our sexual rapport which was impervious and persuasive and made every other dwindling aspect of our relationship quite irrelevant for some time”); in “Control Knobs,” she chronicles—among many, many other, less tangible things—her quest to get the broken knob on her “decrepit cooking device” fixed. “Stir-fry” is just two bare sentences. “I just threw my dinner in the bin. I knew as I was making it I was going to do that, so I put in it all the things I never want to see again.” It feels both crass and inaccurate to reduce any chapter to a single “about”; each fragment is simultaneously hyperspecific and sweeping. Short as it is, this is a demanding read: with its sharp, winding sentences, it's not a book that washes over you but a book that you work for. But the attention pays off: quietly striking, Bennett’s debut lingers long after the last page.

Strange and lyrical with an acute sense of humor.

Pub Date: July 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-57589-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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