Some readers will find these stories repetitive and aridly arty. But the dialogue is witty and erudite, the style lapidary,...

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SELF PORTRAITS: FICTION

The latest from Tuten, one of the gray eminences of the American avant-garde (The Green Hour, 2002, etc.), is a collection of enigmatic and interconnected stories about love, death, myth and memory.

Most of these meditative fictions feature two principal characters, a first-person narrator—sometimes a painter or an art critic, always exquisitely sensitive, worldly, prone to allude to myth, literature, music and the visual arts—and a woman who’s a sort of shape-shifting Eternal Beloved. Over and again, in exotic places and in circumstances often tinged with dream-logic or Borgesian whimsy, they meet and spar and touch and (often) part. In “Self Portrait with Circus,” a lovelorn ringmaster vies with the strongman for the heart of his wire-walking love (and is consoled in his heartache by the wise, dignified elephants); in “The Park Near Marienbad,” a lonely art critic, still grieving his long-dead wife, eavesdrops on a young couple’s cafe repartee and tries to write himself into their story, and thus back into his own. “Self Portrait with Icebergs” ends with a schooner “like a burning fruit encased in ice” steaming down Avenue B toward the Narrows and then the open sea, bound for Antarctica; “Self Portrait with Cheese” is a surrealist fever dream; in “The Park on Fire,” a man leaves his wife reading in a hotel and embarks on a stroll in the park that becomes a trip through an inferno, the tour led this time not by Virgil but by Federico García Lorca.

Some readers will find these stories repetitive and aridly arty. But the dialogue is witty and erudite, the style lapidary, and there are moments of elegiac lyricism to rival Tuten’s great Tintin in the New World (1993).

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-393-07905-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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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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