An unconventional set of tales set in delightfully eccentric realities.

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IN THE GARDEN OF MISTRESS BLOOM

A debut collection of short sci-fi fiction that explores time and space with mischievous humor.

In the title story of Curbo’s playful, intriguing compilation, Larches, a viceroy who presides over the celestial garden of Mistress Bloom, discovers a “barbed and repulsive” artichokelike globe that he recognizes as an “avatar” of the faraway planet Earth. The bloom and the planet are deeply connected, so Larches carefully protects the plant from the gardener’s blade and the Mistress’ own shears, and he hatches a plan to seed other blooms in the garden. “The 19th Frustration” finds the hapless John Y. Lipman applying for a job as a “futurologist.” As he enters his workplace—a building in which time is not linear and whose appearance keeps bewilderingly changing—he’s told that he must first witness the destruction of the city of Paris and then prevent it. In “VanLines – The Driver,” the operator of an employee van pool attempts to avoid a disaster by taking passengers back in time, and they become scavengers in a prehistoric world. “Coyote Tower” relates the adventures of two spies whose loving relationship is their only constant in an unstable world. Harold Brayner, the protagonist of “Memory of Glass,” is physically trapped by age and disability as he watches his memories play out beyond the glass wall of his kitchen. Curbo’s unpredictable narratives of parallel worlds and time slippage are strengthened by his idiosyncratic and effervescent prose; he evocatively describes Mistress Bloom’s feet, for instance, as “clops…shod in skins of black-striped winter squash,” and one of the time-traveling commuters in “Vanlines” is said to “giggle a grin.” Sometimes the quirkiness feels forced and random, as when one of the spy’s supervisors in “Coyote Tower” tosses words “like watermelon seeds” toward his listener. Also, the short story format doesn’t allow for very much development of alternate universes. However, readers who are willing to think nonlinearly may enjoy this romp through unfamiliar worlds.

An unconventional set of tales set in delightfully eccentric realities.

Pub Date: July 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4975-8655-0

Page Count: 154

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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