Searle’s Ivy League eroticism is only mildly disturbing in the stories, but her novella demands attention for its nuance as...




A second collection from Iowa Short Fiction Prize–winner Searle (A Four-Sided Bed, 1998, not reviewed): five stories and a novella centering on two subjects not often linked: family and exhibitionism.

In the eponymous novella, a 29-year-old actress named Kathryn becomes a local celebrity in Lowell, Massachusetts, when she’s scouted for the role of skating star Nancy Kerrigan in a TV drama. Meanwhile, teenager Daniel tacks posters of himself over those announcing Kathryn’s upcoming one-woman show at the Lowell Auditorium. Daniel is obsessed with the concept of celebrity, and with Kathryn as object of desire. Kathryn, whose excitement about the Kerrigan role is mitigated by her guilt over embarrassing her mentally handicapped sister in a TV promotion, unwittingly helps Daniel satisfy both his obsessions—with devastating consequences. Searle deftly slides between her two protagonists, showing the wobbly boundary between Kathryn’s normal, if slightly neurotic, ambitions and Daniel’s more twisted craving. The majority of the remaining tales deal with intellectually superior young women whose hunger for attention gets them in trouble. In “Memoir of a Soon-to-Be Star,” a young girl pretends not to know that her retarded brother is watching as she takes an exaggeratedly sensual shower. A graduate student closing up her dead aunt’s house (in “What It’s Worth”) flirts condescendingly with the hunky moving-man she’s hired. The protagonist of “101” allows herself to be photographed by her teacher as she’s having virtual intercourse with the teacher’s husband. Sex is less central in these stories than the need to be desired and the power it offers as substitute for love. The final piece, “Celebration,” about a couple trying to have a child, seems slightly out of place after so much dark neediness, though it’s linked to the collection’s leitmotif of less-mentally-able family members.

Searle’s Ivy League eroticism is only mildly disturbing in the stories, but her novella demands attention for its nuance as well as its wallop.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-55597-324-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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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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