While all of Schmitt’s stories are well worth reading, when an ironic conclusion becomes predictable (à la O. Henry), it...



Illuminating stories about the everyday—self-image, problematic relationships, the need for love—marred only by Schmitt’s unfortunate tendency to use heavy-handed irony in the stories’ conclusions.

In the first story, “The Dreamer from Ostend,” we meet an author, also the narrator, recently disappointed in love. Spending time in Ostend because he’s attracted by the exoticism of the name, he meets Emma Van A, the elderly aunt of his landlady, who has spent all of her life among her thousands of books and whose direct experience of life seems limited. Her reading has been confined exclusively to the classics, her greatest literary love being Homer. To the narrator she begins to spin a story of her past, one more than a little tinged with an eroticism that seems out of keeping with her staid present. After exploring the thin line between fact and fiction, Schmitt doesn’t leave his story tantalizingly ambiguous but instead clunkily confirms the existence of Emma’s lover. In “Perfect Crime”—almost Hitchcockian in its plot—Gabrielle de Sarlat becomes convinced that her husband of many years can’t possibly be as good as he seems. A “triggering” event brought about by a usually astute neighbor has persuaded Gabrielle that her husband is nothing more than a hypocrite hiding his numerous lovers, so she murders him. Although a witness to the crime exists, she’s exculpated...but eventually realizes her mistake. “Getting Better” introduces us to Stéphanie, a nurse taking care of a handsome man who’s been terribly injured in an accident. Stéphanie has never found herself attractive, but despite his blindness he convinces her she’s beautiful based on her voice and her delicate scent. His flattery leads to a transformation.

While all of Schmitt’s stories are well worth reading, when an ironic conclusion becomes predictable (à la O. Henry), it subverts its own desire to surprise.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-933372-81-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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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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