A searing array of stories envisioned through crystal-clear eyes.

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STORIES

Eslami’s (Bone Worship, 2010) incisive story collection explores the shadowed corners of working-class lives.

In each of these 11 tales, unsung men and women grapple with the detritus of the everyday; chance encounters and split decisions are catalysts for the years of discontent that follow. In the opening story “Jocko Hollow,” two Montana boys’ lives are upended the summer they find a stranger occupying their favorite fishing spot. An older sister meditates on her brother’s zealous but seemingly deluded decision to join the Army in “Victory Forge.” Themes range from innocence to adulthood and identity. Role reversal among younger and older generations abounds: Parents behave selfishly (and often cowardly), and their children adopt adult roles before their time. Deacon, “a whip-smart boy of the prairie” born in a trailer to drunken simpletons, contrives a sense of purpose by taking a housecleaning job to pay for college in “Sour Milk”; the eponymous hero of “Adwok, Pantokrator” deals with the fallout of his mother’s alleged infidelities while facing the stark realities of immigration. In “Everything Gets Mixed Together at the Pueblo,” a tour guide, exhausted by the facade she maintains for endless herds of tourists, begins to fall out of character. The narrator wryly notes that Kathy and Jennifer, the guides, “do not have names of birds, or seasons, or words separated by hyphens, and this is mildly disappointing to everybody.” It’s one of many moments in the collection that articulate a profound feeling of alienation—both among other cultures and within our own. The edges are neatly filled in by several dreamlike stories, including the surreal “Hibernators,” wherein a young couple digs themselves a hole “where their love would bloom like the birth of a mole rat.” These worlds, if bleak, are never less than perfectly honest; social stratification and race dissolve as the rich and poor, from every corner of the world, struggle to find anything worth holding on to. If they do, it often owes to a programmed instinct for survival—composed all the while in stark, unflinching prose.

A searing array of stories envisioned through crystal-clear eyes. 

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0814251881

Page Count: 122

Publisher: Ohio State Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: May 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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