Assured and perceptive, offering a view of another Southland from Chandler’s and Didion’s.

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THE KING OF LIGHTING FIXTURES

Vignettes of Latino life in Los Angeles, reminiscent of Michael Tolkin’s The Player in its sardonic range.

It’s probably safe to guess that most teenage girls do not receive each evening, as if in a daily affirmation, the instruction, “Mija, when you kill a man, you must find the weak spot that all men have and make him suffer pain as he has never suffered before.” Mama’s advice, happily, isn’t often followed literally in these sketches, but in most of them the men are revealed to be riddled with weak spots indeed, measuring out their lives—as do the women, for that matter—in coffee spoons, or at least in visits to Starbucks. Coffee, indeed, seems to have healing powers in the opening story, "Good Things Happen at Tina's Café." At least Yuban does, the stuff that the polydactylic protagonist Félix quaffs in the diner owned by the alluring Tina, who, by the end of the story, may or may not exist, just as Félix’s ordinary reality may or may not be a decaffeinated illusion. Enigmatic and suggestive, the story is an exercise in a gritty form of magical realism, complete with funicular railway. The lead in Olivas’ (The Book of Want, 2011, etc.) title story is less likable, deservedly proud of his accomplishments—“Those punks had no pinche empire, that’s for goddamn sure”—and a complicated enough character to stand up to a little Rashomon-ish examination through the eyes of several people who know him, in interviews conducted on behalf of a writer who just happens to be named Olivas (“a real pendejo”). Though often playful, the collection ends on a grim note as a family is torn apart by the “great wall” that a certain president touts, in an endless audio loop over a detention center loudspeaker system, as one that Mexico will pay for, “and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.”

Assured and perceptive, offering a view of another Southland from Chandler’s and Didion’s.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8165-3562-0

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Univ. of Arizona

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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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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