A fine introduction to the short prose of a modernist master.

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THE BEGGAR AND OTHER STORIES

Appearing for the first time in English translation, these stories describe the struggle to find happiness and meaning in one’s life.

Gazdanov (The Spectre of Alexander Wolf, 2013) was born in St. Petersburg in 1903; during the Russian Revolution, he fought with the White Army before fleeing to Paris in 1920. There, he worked a series of more or less menial jobs, the longest lasting as a late-night taxi driver. When the Nazis occupied Paris, Gazdanov joined the Resistance. As for his writing, it has long gone overlooked, but a recent revival has begun to shower Gazdanov with the attention he deserves. This latest translation of his work into English collects a number of stories from Gazdanov’s early and late career, edited and arranged by his translator, Karetnyk. The collection is neither comprehensive nor representative, but, taken on its own, it forms a lovely little introduction to Gazdanov’s work. The stories range in date from the early to late 1930s; the last two were written in 1962 and 1963, respectively, just before Gazdanov’s premature death. In “Happiness,” a 14-year-old boy observes his new stepmother with suspicion; in “The Mistake,” a young woman grows bored with her husband’s “callous estimations of people, although they were almost always proved right”—to escape the tyranny of his “monstrous” intellect, she dives into an affair. In Karetnyk’s excellent translation, Gazdanov’s prose appears at the height of elegance. But as these stories reveal, that elegance can belie a certain heavy-handedness in theme and worldview. In “The Beggar,” Gazdanov describes “an old man in rags” who lives in a crate on the outskirts of Paris. No one would guess that he’d once directed one of the city’s wealthiest firms. “When everything he was obliged to do wearied and vexed him…he did retain one desire—freedom.” Gazdanov’s equation of homelessness with freedom may have aged badly, but his critique of power and wealth is more relevant than ever. We’re lucky to have these stories.

A fine introduction to the short prose of a modernist master.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78227-401-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pushkin Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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