Park’s stories render the shape-shifting weight of love with a subtle but emotionally penetrating accuracy.

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GODS AND ANGELS

In 13 stories set mostly in his native Northern Ireland, novelist Park (The Poets’ Wives, 2014, etc.) explores the emotional lives of men from youth to old age.

While Park occasionally flirts with high culture—the opening story, “Learning to Swim,” features a young Donne scholar from England finding a poem for his new, older, richer, but less educated Belfast acquaintance to recite at his wedding; “The Kiss” swings between the scoundrel painter Caravaggio’s betrayal of a friend and present-day adultery—the emphasis here is on the daily grind of love. In the heart-wrenching “Boxing Day,” a teenager spends a miserable afternoon with his mentally ill mother, impatient to return to the new happy family his father has created yet longing to “know [his] mother as she must once have been.” Although the island on which the retired teacher in “Skype” lives may be extreme in its isolation, his yearning to stay connected with his faraway daughter via her preferred technology captures the zeitgeist of contemporary parenthood. In “Man Overboard,” four childhood friends, now middle-aged, spend an awkward fishing trip not really talking “about ourselves in the present” until one of them faces a crisis and the others react, revealing the potential tenderness of male friendship. Park shows love gone bad—the cop assigned a surveillance beat by day in “Keeping Watch” spends nights on unofficial surveillance of his ex-wife’s house despite a court order, his inability to let go turned into sickness—but the best stories here approach marital love as a complex organism. Technology is again the metaphor in “The Bloggers,” about a married couple’s evolution online and off. The long, seemingly moribund marriage in “Gecko” endures and reblooms once the husband accepts his own limitations. In “Old Fool,” the lonely widower who allows a struggling single mother to take advantage of his optimistic naiveté is also consciously compensating for his failure to appreciate his wife while she was alive.

Park’s stories render the shape-shifting weight of love with a subtle but emotionally penetrating accuracy.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-40886-607-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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  • 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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