Best when intimate and straightforward, yet often undermined by whimsy and impish urges to experiment.

A CUPBOARDFUL OF SHOES

AND OTHER STORIES

A diverse collection of short fiction culled from 30 years of the author’s writing life.

Wide-ranging in style and subject, the 20 stories in this collection also vary wildly in quality. Several stories are stellar: The most successful piece in the collection, “Night Train to Cologne,” tells the tale of a man contemplating leaving his wife; it possesses an admirable introspective mood, as well as an emotionally suspenseful conclusion. Also poignantly rendered is the claustrophobic familial atmosphere in the title story. Several tales, particularly “The Jump,” are notable for their attempts to deal with characters gripped by crises that are as much spiritual as emotional. The prose is consistently solid, and Wright has a clear gift for small-scale, character-driven stories. Unfortunately, structural and stylistic experiments frequently dilute these strengths. “Seven Minutes’ Silence” and “The Bells of Khatyn” both employ motifs (a compressed time span in the former and the relentless ringing of a bell in the latter) that feel gimmicky, which detracts from the human impact. In the case of “The President Reminisces,” the collection’s sole foray into both sci-fi and satire, the humor is so broad as to be tedious. And yet, even the book’s failures can be intriguing. “Queen’s Grill,” a story with an unreliable narrator who may or may not have had a relationship with an unhappy film star on an ocean voyage, contains moments of levity and poignancy that contrast with the strained inclusion of the narrator’s doubting brother and the fussiness of the whole story being a confession to the character’s dead mother. In this story, the lovingly rendered details of ocean travel also cry out for a less frivolous production. Indeed, when viewed as a whole, many of the settings and evocations of vanished eras contain moments that will charm readers, even when the stories themselves aren’t fully successful.

Best when intimate and straightforward, yet often undermined by whimsy and impish urges to experiment.

Pub Date: March 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1466900974

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

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Full of insights and pleasures.

FIVE TUESDAYS IN WINTER

The first collection of stories from an acclaimed novelist.

King, who won the inaugural Kirkus Prize for Fiction for Euphoria (2014), can make you fall in love with a character fast, especially the smart, vulnerable, often painfully self-conscious adolescent protagonists featured in several of the 10 stories collected here, half previously published, half new. In "Creature," the fetching opener, 14-year-old Carol is hired to be a live-in mother's helper by a rich woman whose children and grandchildren are coming for a two-week visit, a woman so entitled she breezily renames her Cara because she likes it better. Under the influence of Jane Eyre, Carol is swept away by the charms of the woman's newly married son, who's arrived without his wife. "You cannot know these blistering feelings," she writes to her friend, "you have not yet met your Rochester." As in Father of the Rain (2010), alcoholism and mental illness shadow many characters' lives. Carol has a father in rehab, while the unnamed boy narrator of "When in the Dordogne" has parents who have left for France following the father's nervous breakdown and failed suicide attempt. His babysitters are a pair of college boys with whom he has so much more fun than usual that he dreams that his parents will get in a car crash and never return. The protagonists of other stories show King's range, among them a gay man who receives a surprise visit from his homophobic college roommate, a Frenchwoman living in the U.S. whose husband has abruptly moved on, a German woman taking her bratty daughter on holiday to an unpromising inn on the North Sea, a 91-year-old visiting his young granddaughter in the hospital. The final story, "The Man at the Door," about frustrations of the writing process, also tells of its joys: "This morning, however, without warning, a sentence rose, a strange unexpected chain of words meeting the surface in one long gorgeous arc....Words flooded her and her hand ached to keep up with them and above it all her mind was singing here it is here it is and she was smiling."

Full of insights and pleasures.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5876-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

THE AWKWARD BLACK MAN

A grandmaster of the hard-boiled crime genre shifts gears to spin bittersweet and, at times, bizarre tales about bruised, sensitive souls in love and trouble.

In one of the 17 stories that make up this collection, a supporting character says: “People are so afraid of dying that they don’t even live the little bit of life they have.” She casually drops this gnomic observation as a way of breaking down a lead character’s resistance to smoking a cigarette. But her aphorism could apply to almost all the eponymous awkward Black men examined with dry wit and deep empathy by the versatile and prolific Mosley, who takes one of his occasional departures from detective fiction to illuminate the many ways Black men confound society’s expectations and even perplex themselves. There is, for instance, Rufus Coombs, the mailroom messenger in “Pet Fly,” who connects more easily with household pests than he does with the women who work in his building. Or Albert Roundhouse, of “Almost Alyce,” who loses the love of his life and falls into a welter of alcohol, vagrancy, and, ultimately, enlightenment. Perhaps most alienated of all is Michael Trey in “Between Storms,” who locks himself in his New York City apartment after being traumatized by a major storm and finds himself taken by the outside world as a prophet—not of doom, but, maybe, peace? Not all these awkward types are hapless or benign: The short, shy surgeon in “Cut, Cut, Cut” turns out to be something like a mad scientist out of H.G. Wells while “Showdown on the Hudson” is a saga about an authentic Black cowboy from Texas who’s not exactly a perfect fit for New York City but is soon compelled to do the right thing, Western-style. The tough-minded and tenderly observant Mosley style remains constant throughout these stories even as they display varied approaches from the gothic to the surreal.

The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4956-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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