Considered, sometimes-stiff experiments enlivened by Albahari’s wordplay.

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LEARNING CYRILLIC

STORIES

Expats, lovers and writers from Belgrade to Calgary wrestle with distance and loss in this pensive, postmodern story collection from the veteran Serbian author.

Albahari’s prior works in English translation (Götz and Meyer, 2005, etc.) emphasized the horrors of the Holocaust and Nazi rule. The 27 stories here are relatively gentle, more interior tales, though World War II remains on Albahari’s mind. In “Hitler in Chicago,” a writer meets a woman on a plane who claims to have met the dictator, delivering a final line that suggests his ghost isn’t leaving soon: “Everyone must see Hitler once in their life.” In “Tito in Zurich,” a woman takes practically orgasmic joy in a poster in her room of the Yugoslavian strongman, evoking a tension between security and surveillance. More typical, though, is the title story, in which a man teaching Cyrillic to Serbian children in a cold North American town befriends Thunder Cloud, a Blackfoot Indian; Thunder Cloud’s folk tales intermingle with the church’s and the narrator’s own Serbian background to make for a somber study of displacement. Metafictional gamesmanship abounds: Pieces like “The Basilica in Lyon” and “A Story With No Way Out” are stories about storytelling and the futility of applying order to our messy lives. (“I don’t know why I began this story, nor why my wife and I turned up in it.”) Though not exactly flash fiction, these stories tend to be brief, introducing a relationship and abstracted complication, and Albahari’s habitually open-ended conclusions can be unsatisfying. But sometimes the approach produces gems like the two-page “Squirrel, Peanut, Hat,” in which a squirrel at the narrator’s front door sparks a memory of his father’s stint in a Nazi camp. Albahari lives in a lively, quirky present, but a dark past is never far away.

Considered, sometimes-stiff experiments enlivened by Albahari’s wordplay.

Pub Date: Dec. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62897-090-6

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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