A smart, insightful collection of stories about life and love.

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LOVE, IN THEORY

TEN STORIES

Levy’s award-winning short story collection masterfully explores the vagaries of romantic love.

In Levy’s (Amazons: A Love Story, 2012) 10 lyrical gems, disparate characters struggle without someone to love, and some are paralyzed and shocked by the loss of affection. In “Theory of Transportation,” Thomas sleepwalks to a movie theater on the night of his lover’s death. In “The Best Way Not to Freeze,” a reclusive English professor, Katie, falls for Ben, a man of the world who teaches her how to portage a canoe in the wilderness, but after invigorating her life, he returns to his ex. Most of Levy’s stories are peopled with highly educated characters interested in highbrow subjects—Nietzsche, French Impressionism, Persian rugs. They can’t help intellectualizing the confusing whys and hows of love. For example, in “Theory of Enlightenment,” Gil leaves Renee, trading their discussions of botany and Mahler for yogic asanas and incense at a Buddhist retreat. “Sometimes one plus one can equal less than two,” Gil tells her. Levy’s prose is deeply philosophical and sometimes heady but never pompous. It depicts infidelity and loss yet avoids melancholy and sentimentality, as the characters often don’t have the expected reactions to difficulties—they are too cerebral for that. Levy beautifully explores the pitfalls of domestic life in “Gravity,” in which Richard attends his sister’s second wedding, as do his mother, father and father’s mistress. The bride is nearly inconsequential in this poignant vignette; instead, the story focuses on Richard, who evaluates his own relationship in light of his familial peculiarities. The final story, “Theory of Dramatic Action,” employs a second-person narrator, as if to finally address the reader directly; it’s also the only one bordering on edgy, as a dominatrix tempts the heroine. Levy’s taut prose, intelligence and emotional acuity penetrate nearly every sentence. Fans of Amy Bloom’s short stories are likely to enjoy Levy’s work. Readers will likely savor this collection, a 2011 winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, for its intoxicating language and introspection.

A smart, insightful collection of stories about life and love.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0820343495

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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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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