I AM DANGEROUS

STORIES

A third collection from Johnson (Distant Friends, 1990, etc.) offers 13 tight, knowing, well-told stories. The tales are set in the New South, a land of fallen aristocrats and upstart money. It's this incisive presentation of class that lends Johnson's work a certain caustic European tenor, making him sound sometimes like Chekhov, sometimes like Ibsen, often like Cheever or James. In ``A House of Trees,'' a drunken, unemployed father shakes his petulant son out of a tree, crippling him for life; in ``Hemingway's Cats,'' a honeymoon in the Florida Keys is complicated when the bridegroom's father shows up unannounced with some bad news for the bride; and ``In the Deep Woods'' features a financially overwhelmed father groping for recognition in front of an overly sensitive son, this time while hunting. Johnson doesn't limit himself to little boys' yarns, either: ``Scene of the Crime'' finds a daughter avenging herself against her materialistic mother, and ``Little Death'' explores the theme of abortion through the experiences of a homely teenager. The author also showcases an affection for the neo-gothic family so beloved of southern writers: ``Evening at Home'' opens with a minor kitchen accident and closes with a shared, silent sense of grief between father and daughter over how strange Mom has become. Johnson also works some artful variations on the theme of Catholic guilt. ``Sanctity'' dismantles the horrors of a parochial school, while ``Leavetaking,'' with its insightful summary of a crumbling young marriage, reads like early Updike. Then there are the booze stories, such as ``Last Night,'' in which a solitary drinker, who has just gone on the wagon, falls disastrously off when he's forced to spend time with his wine-swilling, duplicitous girlfriend. The Walker Percy-esque title piece is, unfortunately, the weakest, an excuse to muse existential on a chance movie-theater encounter. Exceptionally strong, confident writing from an author who shows his literary roots while gracefully blending ancient anxieties and modern concerns.

Pub Date: July 16, 1996

ISBN: 0-8018-5375-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1996

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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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