A worthwhile read for aspiring ethnographers or readers interested in South Pacific culture.

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A Red Woman Was Crying

STORIES FROM NAGOVISI

This collection of short stories by anthropologist Mitchell provides a window into the culture of the Pacific Islands.

The Nagovisi people live in West-Central Bougainville Island, which is part of the Solomon Islands in terms of culture and ethnicity but is politically part of Papua New Guinea. Although the stories Mitchell presents are to be read as fiction rather than ethnography, they nevertheless offer a glimpse of a group of people and a way of living with which many readers are likely unfamiliar. The tales, which range in length from a single page to 50, display a variety of storytelling techniques. Some, such as “Crocodile Kills His Father” and the eponymous “A Red Woman Was Crying,” are takes on traditional folktales. In the former, after a woman named Sipita gives birth to the first crocodile, she hides him in a basket and warns her husband not to look inside, just as, say, Bluebeard warned his wife not to open the closet and Pandora was warned not to open her box. Some of the stories give a view of the larger Nagovisi culture and seem representative of what might be told to children, the equivalent of the Western tale of Mother Goose. Others have a more typical narrative structure and, rather than highlighting any sort of overarching mythology or belief system, serve to explicate aspects of day-to-day life in this culture. There’s much of interest here, particularly to readers with an anthropological bent, but even though Mitchell doesn’t aim for this to be an academic text, a little more context would be helpful. The collection would also read more smoothly if the folktales were presented in some kind of lucid order; as is, the contrasts in style can be abrupt and somewhat jarring.

A worthwhile read for aspiring ethnographers or readers interested in South Pacific culture.

Pub Date: July 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-0983307242

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Saddle Road Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 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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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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