This quick read is a mixed bag of dark, disturbing stories, with a couple of literary gems.

READ REVIEW

MY STALIN DOLL

7 STORIES

A collection of contemporary short stories with some touches of magic realism.

Anger seems to be the dominant theme running through the seven stories in Crane’s debut collection. Readers are treated to angry employees like the protagonists of “The Little Flower of the Newsroom” and the haunting “The Last Day is Better than the First”; characters who seem unnaturally predisposed to anger like those in the title story and “The Judgement of the Light”; and a trio of angry old ladies in “The Sleeper Awakes,” “The Ghost” and “Return of the Prodigal.” Women in general come across as a mean-spirited, conniving, murderous group who are only slightly redeemed by the more goodhearted women of the final story, “The Judgment of the Light.” Crane produces spot-on descriptions like that of an old man’s body that was “as thin and shapeless as a can of Pringles” and clever turns of phrase such as “[h]e’d learned to live with it, the way people learn to live with leprosy or a criminal record,” but at times the phrases are clunky, like the narrator’s description of his life in the title story as “an accretion of uninteresting contingencies” or the explanation from “The Ghost” that “their moral calculus conferred upon father and son a right to unrestrained verbal vengeance.” Tales like “The Little Flower of the Newsroom,” with its clever title and unexpected conclusion, and the haunting glimpse into the mind of a mass murderer in “The Last Day is Better than the First,” make this slim volume worthy of further exploration. Readers will likely have more difficulty identifying with the mentally unbalanced first-person narrator of the title story and the angry young protagonist of “The Judgement of the Light.” Also difficult to identify with are Mrs. Marion from “The Ghost” and the elderly woman in “The Sleeper Awakes,” both of whom are filled with hatred for their daughters-in-law, though it’s possible that, based on the images only she can see on a static-filled television channel, the latter may be justified in her disapproval.

This quick read is a mixed bag of dark, disturbing stories, with a couple of literary gems.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-1456444020

Page Count: 145

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

FLIGHTS

Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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