Eleven poignant stories that look to the past to portray the present.

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IN THE NOT QUITE DARK

STORIES

An insightful collection of stories that paint diverse portraits of present-day Los Angeles.

Johnson (Elsewhere, California, 2012, etc.) exposes the deep ruptures between her characters' relationships to one another, their surroundings, and their pasts. In “Rogues,” J.J., a broke college student, clashes with his older brother, Kenny. Kenny laughs off J.J.’s more idealistic worldview. “Sorry College,” he says after J.J. critiques his use of the n-word as a man of color. Later, Kenny states more bluntly, “Well Obama don’t live in this neighborhood, do he?” This question resonates as the story examines the consequences of race and racism on their lives. In the title story, Dean is haunted by the city’s past and the knowledge that he, too, will belong to the past one day. As he sits with his mother on the roof deck of his building in downtown Los Angeles, he imagines the city before he lived in it. Downtown has gotten nice, his mother notes. It’s all cleaned up. “And by all cleaned up,” Dean thinks, “she means, of people.” In “The Story of Biddy Mason,” Johnson’s timeline is widest and creates the most powerful view of the palimpsest of this American city. We see Los Angeles as it was shaped by two people in history: a white man from “good stock” who was a railroad magnate and art collector and a former slave who walked from Mississippi to California, where she became a philanthropist and founded a church. We end with an arresting second-person perspective that shows us the Los Angeles we might see today and what, if anything, we'd experience of those who came before us. The city doesn’t figure prominently in every story in the collection, but the themes of race, perspective, and history carry through.

Eleven poignant stories that look to the past to portray the present.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61902-732-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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