Jones’s engrossing, exquisitely crafted and unforgettable stories offer images of the African-American experience that are...




The punishing legacy of poverty, crime and racism spans several generations, in the Hemingway Award– and Pulitzer Prize–winning author’s long-awaited second collection.

Wielding with enviable precision the elegant, plain style that so distinguished his earlier stories (gathered as Lost in the City, 1992) and single novel (The Known World, 2003), Jones probes deeply the wounded yet often resilient psyches of an imposing gallery of vivid, varied characters. A convicted murderer released from prison after 20 years finds unapproachable the family he had disappointed and betrayed, but makes himself of use by tenderly preparing the body of a former acquaintance for burial (“Old Boys, Old Girls”). A young girl raised among a family blighted by alcoholism and lawlessness glimpses a hopeful future in the promise of a school that accepts, nurtures and challenges her (“Spanish in the Morning”). A retired army officer cannot control his lifelong appetite for younger women and fast living and becomes—in a way he had not foreseen—“A Rich Man.” Elsewhere, one woman meets the Devil in a Safeway supermarket, another is struck blind while riding a bus—and their ordeals redefine them, stunningly. A “blessed one” who mysteriously survives catastrophes that claim numerous less-fortunate souls reaches a hard-won maturity, and eventually comprehends the nature of her “gift” and the obligations she must accept (“A Poor Guatemalan Dreams of a Downtown in Peru”). Like Alice Munro’s, Jones’s stories exfoliate unpredictably, embracing multiple characters and interconnected histories and destinies. In “Common Law,” domestic violence infects and transforms a peaceful neighborhood. In the brooding title story, a Korean War vet’s murder investigation proves that “Blood spilled with violence never goes away.” And in the magnificent “Root Worker,” a woman doctor learns from an aged “voodoo woman” that we are often helplessly and unknowingly the cause of our own—and our loved ones’—pain.

Jones’s engrossing, exquisitely crafted and unforgettable stories offer images of the African-American experience that are unparalleled in American fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-055756-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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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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