Many facets of life and love, each polished until it sparkles, in a gem of a collection that pulses with humanity and warmth.




Fourteen down-to-earth tales (all but one previously published), full of insight into how plain folks, families, and friends encounter disappointment and upheaval—and occasionally profound loss. A compassionate, rewarding first collection.

Gilliland’s (Being a Minor Writer, not reviewed) title story explores variations on the theme of longing—from a train conductor who observes a young working woman and her much older husband moving through stages from closeness to alienation; through an old man who allows himself to be run over by a train; and on to a young man who falls hard for his much older boss, a powerful figure in a Christian Science–like religion—but who loses her when the church has to sell its building and he loses his job as well. A maladjusted Vietnam vet, in “Purple Heart,” never far from his memories of the war, takes simple pleasure in talking with the Spanish cashier in the Circle K—until his routine takes on a different sense of déjà vu when he witnesses her in the act of being robbed. In “Witches,” a single mom moves with her daughter from Detroit to Albuquerque in order to get a fresh start: hitching a ride with a kind trucker, she gets settled in only to become unsettled again when a Navajo professor who’s befriended her begins to act as if she’s seeing a ghost. And in the understated and resonant tale “Permanence,” a survivor of young romance describes her heady relationship with a former high-school French teacher, a Stanford student, who woos her, drops her, and woos her again—even more intensely—only to reveal himself an utter, unabashed snob.

Many facets of life and love, each polished until it sparkles, in a gem of a collection that pulses with humanity and warmth.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2001

ISBN: 0-88748-362-3

Page Count: 280

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • New York Times Bestseller



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet