Willis’s style is resolutely unflashy, and she doesn’t show much range of tone and mood, but this is a remarkably mature,...

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VANISHING AND OTHER STORIES

The well-made, mostly downbeat stories in Canadian writer Willis’s debut collection feature characters with an intimate understanding of loss—loss past, loss present, even the losses to come.

In the title story, a daughter struggles to come to grips with the disappearance of her father, a writer—but the detective work here is to plumb the ultimately unsolvable mysteries of mind and motive. “Escape” features a formerly stolid and reliable doctor who, after his wife’s untimely death, first takes up nocturnal trips to the casino and then a not-quite-innocent-but-not-quite-sinister obsession with a female blackjack dealer who was once a sleight-of-hand artist. “Caught” recounts a dalliance between a female ichthyologist and one of her undergraduate students. Willis tells the story in the subjunctive mood, speculating, switching perspectives, blurring details: “There’s more than one way it could go,” she begins. “Outside the office there might be the shuffle of shoes on waxed floor…” In less steady hands this might feel gimmicky or showy, but Willis employs the technique with great patience and deftness, thwarting again and again the reader’s desire to find a safe and stable place to make judgments—that’s not, she delicately insists, the point. Several stories, notably “Sky Theatre” and “The Separation,” anatomize the complexities and pleasures of female friendship. The former ends with a fleeting, beautifully realized moment of connection between two high-school girls, the narrator and the class beauty who’s now confined to a wheelchair; the latter explores the fraught relationship between two young sisters traveling back and forth by bus to visit their father during a marital separation.

Willis’s style is resolutely unflashy, and she doesn’t show much range of tone and mood, but this is a remarkably mature, self-assured debut by a writer whose work will draw comparisons to Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-200752-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 9, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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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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