PRAYERS OF AN ACCIENTAL NATURE

STORIES

Twelve stories, mostly depicting life among intellectually and emotionally overwrought young people in present-day America. Almost all the characters who roam these pages suffer from some intense malaise, real or imagined, that prevents them from discerning any purpose in their own lives—and keeps them from communicating as much to the reader. Domestic life is usually futile: the schizophrenic narrator of “The Season’s Condition,” for example, drives her sister to distraction with her delusions, while the wife of “An Interview With My Husband” is obsessed with losing her younger Argentinian husband to another woman. Erotic life is largely as unsatisfying. The nearly blind art scholar of “Blind—compensates for her failed marriage with a succession of pointless love affairs; the beautiful narrator of “Where All Things Converge” dedicates herself to a life of celibacy after losing her faith in God; and the clueless intellectuals of “Our Perversions” attempt, without much success, to find an ontological significance in their sex (—We have our desire. We name it, then move into it so that it cannot move into us and make us who we are not: a man and a woman hiding from unquenchable desire—). The mendacity of the rich is also a common theme. The fable “An Obscure Geography,” for instance, tells of the ultimate revenge of a troubled schoolteacher who loses her job at the hands of a wealthy, bratty student, while the title story relates the history of a young, rich, Wasp-y banker who falls disastrously in love with a free-spirited woman (—half Peruvian or Bolivian—we cannot remember which—) who scandalizes his family. Apprentice work of some depth but no great originality. Di Blasi (the novellas Drought & Say What You Like, 1996) shows a talent for narration, but most of her central dichotomies (sex vs. love, money vs. freedom, etc.) are obvious, annoying, and very old-hat.

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-56689-083-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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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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