Without quite the moral gravity of Alice Munro but with all the skill: Pearlman serves up exemplary tales, lively and lovely.

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HONEYDEW

STORIES

Pearlman (Binocular Vision, 2011, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award) returns with another collection of closely observed, often devastating stories of more or less ordinary life.

Pearlman is a poet of eyes and hair; nearly every story features an observation, often in the form of an arresting image, of these features. So it is that in the opening story, in which an art historian figures, a woman appears whose “eyes in her lightly wrinkled face were the blue of a Veronese sky,” and so it is, in seeming homage to Chekhov, that in another story, a character sports “brown hair, too much of it, a blunt nose and chin, and a habit, during conversation, of fastening his gaze on one side of your neck or the other.” A vampire? No, just another character who’s not quite comfortable inside his or her own skin, as so many of Pearlman’s characters are not. Pearlman, who is in her late 70s, writes with the wisdom of accumulated experience, and many of her characters have suffered the loss of spouses, even if they themselves are not yet of age. One comparative youngster, a spry 49, has just lost her husband in war: “Each of his parts was severed from the others,” Pearlman writes arrestingly, “and his whole—his former whole—was severed from Paige.” Every word counts in that sentence, and Pearlman fills volumes with her economy of language, even if so much is devoted to such not-quite-usual matters as “corneal inlays” and people who bear odd sobriquets: “Louie the vegetable man was not composed of fruit or vegetables. He was composed of a cap, a face with little eyes and a big nose and a mouth missing some teeth, and a pile of assorted clothing from a junk shop.”

Without quite the moral gravity of Alice Munro but with all the skill: Pearlman serves up exemplary tales, lively and lovely.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-29722-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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