The simple diction throughout belies the depth and ambition of this fiction.

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THE POMEGRANATE LADY AND HER SONS

An Iranian writer prized internationally and among fellow writers of fiction deserves a wider American readership for this rich, provocative collection of stories.

Though there’s occasionally a “once upon a time,” fablelike quality to these stories, Taraghi's fiction (A Mansion in the Sky, 2003, etc.) reflects her own experience as a woman born in Tehran in 1939; she has suffered the upheavals of war and revolution, seen the rules change and disappear, and has long lived in Paris. Many of these are tales of two cities, of relocating to a city where one cannot be at home—“Our lives as foreigners in Paris are full of hidden anxieties,” she writes in “The Neighbor,” one of the shorter and strongest stories here—while their home in pre-revolutionary Tehran exists only in memory. “If Iran was not at war, I would go back home,” explains the narrator of the same story. “If it weren’t for my fear of the bombs and the rockets, I would not stay here a single day. But in truth, the real battlefield is here.” Though the turbulence gives each story a political dimension, the human condition is at the heart of these stories, which explore the ambiguities of freedom and the essence of exile through a series of narrators, many of whom share gender, generational and geographical specifics with the author, but most have a limited perspective and some seem to have blinders on. One of the longer stories, “Amina’s Great Journey,” traces the arc of a Bangladeshi maid’s life and travails, as recounted by the condescending narrator who employs her, first in Tehran and later in Paris, and who becomes her reluctant benefactor. In “The Encounter,” the narrator finds herself at the mercy of a nanny she had fired, perhaps unjustly, in the post-revolution turning of tables. There is plenty of dark humor in these stories amid “the painful ambiguity of conjecture and uncertainty.”

The simple diction throughout belies the depth and ambition of this fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-06333-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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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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