Lish, with his ups and downs, is still our Joyce, our Beckett, our most true modernist. Buy! Read! Listen up!

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KRUPP’S LULU

STORIES

After such great Lish novels as Epigraph (1996) and Arcade, or How to Write a Novel (1998), a volume of mere stories can seem slight stuff; but moments here, even so, place Lish among the top few still writing what once was called `serious` literature.

The tiny `Facts of Steel` sets out a poetics, announcing that `Nothing would please me more than for me as an artist to be free to sit here and tell you the truth. But they won't let me do it.` Who `they` is may puzzle some while confirming for others that in mass-culture `truth` is increasingly a taboo—which is why, says Lish, `I have no choice but to resort to ruse after ruse. God knows I get no pleasure from it . . . . But am I the one who has the say?` And the `ruses` here when brilliant are brilliant indeed, though when meager, meager with a vengeance. `Ground` recollects childhood in a way so tedious (a boy pretends his two fingers are a walking man) that it refuses to be interesting, except possibly for the author (and not even that for sure); the same goes, say, for the overreaching of `The Positions,` a teeny tale whose speaker claims that `the best thing in my life` has been pulling lint from under the clothes dryer. On the other hand, the simple buying of a new window shade, in `Physis versus Nomos,` captivates with sheer smartness and drollery, while `Man on the Go,` about a widower and a misbehaving washing machine, gets a perfect ten for laugh-out-loud funny. The travel-tale `Among the Pomeranians` may be slow, but so what when `How the Sophist Got Spotted,` for example, is a true Beckettian tour de force, or when `Mercantilism` wraps up whole lives and entire eras in a brilliance of wit, woe, and words.

Lish, with his ups and downs, is still our Joyce, our Beckett, our most true modernist. Buy! Read! Listen up!

Pub Date: May 13, 2000

ISBN: 1-56858-154-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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