Gilb gets excellent mileage from simple elements. Though the men in these stories have common concerns, each feels distinct...

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BEFORE THE END, AFTER THE BEGINNING

Men struggle with old demons, attractive women and a persistent racism in the latest collection from Gilb (The Flowers, 2008, etc).

It’s a cliché to compare a short-story writer with a clean-cut prose style to Raymond Carver. But Gilb’s stories do recall the minimalist master, and not just because of their trim sentences (or because Gilb knew Carver). Like Carver, Gilb focuses his stories on working-class men who are slowly awakening to their ineptitude at relationships, who have a hard time shaking off old addictions, and who can’t quite move their careers out of neutral. What distinguishes Gilb is his deft handling of race: The heroes in these 10 sharp stories are mostly Mexican-American men who weather plenty of prejudice. “Cheap” exemplifies Gilb’s interests, centering on a talented but ailing musician who uncomfortably referees a rift between two Latino painters in his home and their bullying, sanctimonious gringo boss. Manliness is a consistent theme, most strongly in “The Last Time I Saw Junior,” in which an old friend intrudes on the narrator by dragging him back into the world of macho drug dealers. Yet these men are easily undone by a provocative woman or two. In “Willows Village,” the best story of the batch, a down-on-his-luck family man moves in with his aunt, whose wealth and attractiveness unsettle him; Gilb skillfully generates erotic tension without making the story comic or perverse, and the ending underscores the connections between greed and lust. Gilb suffered a stroke in 2009, and the collection’s opener, “please, thank you,” seems to address that event, recalling the narrator’s recovery and firmly establishing the key elements of his stories: family, prejudice and what’s required to overcome a sense of helplessness.

Gilb gets excellent mileage from simple elements. Though the men in these stories have common concerns, each feels distinct and alive.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2000-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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