Many readers will be glad that they don’t live in Persuasion Nation, though the most perceptive will recognize that we...

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IN PERSUASION NATION

STORIES

Within this series of thematically linked stories, consumerism goes haywire in a country and era somewhat like our own.

Following his fabulist novella (The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, 2005), Saunders returns to the short story with his signature synthesis of satire and surrealism, through which flights of the imagination assume a hyper-reality. Within the brave new world of “Persuasion Nation,” parents buy computerized masks for their babies, transforming infants into amazing, more articulate facsimiles of themselves (and making the neighbors jealous). Advertising holograms based on individual preferences shadow potential shoppers, in a society where consumption equals patriotism. Children are taken from their homes to live in a training camp, where they form an elite Tastemakers & Trendsetters cadre (complete with their own bubblegum cards). With all the pressures to consume and conform, free will is either an illusion or a betrayal. The stories take a variety of formats—letters of complaint and comment, a scientific report, a holiday memory (in the uncharacteristic, bittersweet realism of “Christmas”)—and most of them feature first-person narration by a series of oddly dysfunctional narrators. Exceptions to the variety of first-person voices are two of the longer stories at the collection’s center: “Brad Carrigan, American” finds a television series under threat of cancellation resorting to increasingly extreme measures to sustain interest (and in the process probing the morality of anything-goes reality TV). The title story that follows turns the world of commercials into a battlefield of all-American revolt. Though much of the fiction is slapstick funny in a dark, deadpan way, a spiritual undercurrent courses through the work, as desire and suffering feed on each other, and God may be just another pitchman or empty promise. Where many short stories at the creative vanguard seem to bear minimal relation to the world at large, Saunders’s work is as effective as social commentary as it is at exploring the frontiers of fiction.

Many readers will be glad that they don’t live in Persuasion Nation, though the most perceptive will recognize that we already do.

Pub Date: May 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59448-922-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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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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