A series of gossipy conversations with some engaging descriptions, but its uneven prose may fail to engage readers.

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THE STORIES OF A LITTLE TOWN

Mera offers a debut collection of stories that highlight social issues in the fictional small town of Little River.

The author tightly intertwines the threads uniting a community over the course of 17 tales, told from diverse viewpoints. In stories shared verbally between characters, readers meet various townspeople, including Judy, a woman sent to a foster family as a child slave when she was 10; Terence Pierre, a woman forced to marry Maximilian Makir, the father of her unborn child; and Ronald Jean-Philip, a father trying to save his teenage son from a prison sentence. Mera uses these characters to address real-life challenges of the developing world, such as poor health, lack of sanitation services, child abandonment, and the legacy of slavery. Mystical and spiritual elements abound, as when a preacher walks through town asking each downtrodden resident about his or her favorite miracle from the Bible, then provides solutions to their problems; in other tales, residents are turned into zombies by voodoo priests and a midwife is beaten after being deemed a sorceress. Throughout, characters reveal long-kept secrets, such as a sexual assault, the existence of a secret son, and the abduction of an infant twin. Family trees grown thornier with each character’s confession; in one instance, a couple must be stopped from marrying because they’re revealed to be half siblings. Mera provides vivid details of life in Little River in several passages: “almost everybody was awake by six a.m.—The bread men, the children selling ground coffee, the ladies with their baskets of vegetables, fruits, and all kinds of goods…at six p.m., you would hear the voodoo drumbeats.” Sections on child slavery provide frank descriptions of mistreatment. But there’s often more telling than showing in this collection, with some vague descriptions, such as “the family was in a rage.” Characters also often summarize their lives in long blocks of dialogue, with little action taking place in the present moment.

A series of gossipy conversations with some engaging descriptions, but its uneven prose may fail to engage readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5434-8375-8

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: May 3, 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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