Pulitzer Prize winner Remnick (Lenin's Tomb, 1993) turns his attention to . . . Reggie Jackson? This collection of Remnick's New Yorker pieces runs the gamut from Reggie to Alger Hiss, from Michael Jordan to theYiddish daily, the Forward. Stories, Remnick asserts in his preface, are the heart of journalism, and as readers of his prize-winning book on Russia know, he is a very capable storyteller. With the exception of the essays on Alger Hiss and USA Today's Al Neuharth, the pieces in this collection are recent, having been published between 1993 and February 1996. The topics are varied, but two elements do unify them. The first is Remnick's penchant for telling detail and for the slightly offbeat variation on an ordinary interviewer's question. The second is the way he balances his passionate commitment to a vision of morality with the necessities of objective journalism. At its best, these two constants can produce a masterpiece, as in his lengthy examination of the forces that drove Marion Barry's campaign to return to the mayoralty of Washington, D.C.; one watches, fascinated, as Remnick comes to understand and even (a little grudgingly, as you might expect) to like the ex-con ex-mayor. At its worst, the result is the book's opening piece, a portrait of Gary Hart in 1993 that, because its central figure is unforthcoming about the most obvious topic of interest, feels hollow at the center. Happily, the book has many more examples of the former than of the latter. Remnick is particularly good on his enthusiasms: a warm tribute to the late Joseph Brodsky, and affectionate portraits of Ralph Ellison and Murray Kempton. He is less effective when venting his spleen, as in his slightly shrill attack on the cold new sports arenas that opens his profile of Jordan. On the whole, though, this is a superbly entertaining collection.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-45255-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996

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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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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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