Bracing, often brilliant stories deliver a shock to the routine narratives we tell.

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CATAPULT

Eleven stories of misshapen families and broken friendships disturb and unsettle.

Fridlund follows History of Wolves (2017), her marvelous and preternaturally accomplished first novel, with a collection of jarring and polished short fiction. The craft is evident in the perfect titles and the observational acuity of the sentences. In a story called “One You Run From, the Other You Fight,” a childless woman trespasses into a boy’s room: “Teenage boys always unnerved her, with their dramatic bodies and bad skin, their needy flirtation. They couldn’t decide if they wanted to be liked or hated.” In quick phrases, Fridlund’s characters are vividly embodied, such as Lora, 34, “with her lavish red nails, fingering the dry skin on her elbows.” The narrator of this story, “Here, Still,” begins with the ambiguous “I do not like her much, Lora, my best friend.” Neither will the reader. Fridlund writes about lives that feel, to their owners, “fundamentally unreal and insubstantial.” In “Marco Polo,” a young man describes his marriage slipping away like the child’s game. He ends his tale by donning his ex’s earplugs and mask for sleep, “faceless, pitiless, and perfect.” The only narrator with much agency is Katie, who remembers being an alpha girl of 14. She begins that summer reading vampire stories and ends it sexually mounting a boy her age who tells her “No, wait” in the unnerving title story, “Catapult.” It captures Katie’s intelligence and heedless insistence on launching from childhood. This is darker, thornier terrain than Mattie Furston navigated in History of Wolves, but the geography is similar: the Upper Midwest, the Iron Range, existentially lonely rural and suburban outposts. Each story mixes its humans with other mammals—rabbits, mice, bears, and especially dogs. Fridlund insists on functions primal and rude. She likes the color yellow for teeth and toenails, linoleum, rabbit fur, and toothpicks. Her stories evoke Flannery O’Connor's masterly way with grotesquery but deviate in Fridlund’s contempt for faith.

Bracing, often brilliant stories deliver a shock to the routine narratives we tell.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-946448-05-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

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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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