Every great writer deserves a tribute like this magnificent gathering. Nathalie Babel has honored her father’s memory and...

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THE COMPLETE WORKS OF ISAAC BABEL

An enormous—and enormously important—retrospective collection assembles for the first time in any language all the surviving work of the great Russian Jewish writer (1894–1941) who was murdered in a Stalinist prison camp.

Babel’s own terrible story is told in a moving preface and afterword contributed by this volume’s editor and guiding spirit, his daughter Nathalie. Babel earned early fame for the crisp prose and blunt realism with which he depicted the misfortunes of war while serving as a correspondent and propagandist with the Red Army in Poland in the wake of the 1917 Revolution. The great works from this period include unsparingly detailed portrayals of poverty and terror on the home front as well as battlefield pieces (where Babel unwisely named names and exposed strategical blunders) both fictional and journalistic (including “Reports” from various fronts). He soon broadened his approach, with “Odessa Stories” about his birthplace and its notorious criminal underclass, and classic autobiographical tales (notably “First Love” and “The Story of My Dovecote”). The collection also includes Babel’s revealing “1920 Diary” (which was not intended for publication, and in which we see his devotion to revolutionary principles begin to crumble); two complete plays (the better, “Sunset,” is a virtuosic distillation of his Odessa tales); and nearly 200 pages’ worth of screenplays written for silent film director Sergei Eisenstein. Reading Babel, one is reminded at various times of the young Tolstoy, Maupassant, Chekhov, Stephen Crane, and Sholom Aleichem (several of whose works he in fact adapted for the screen). Still, he’s a writer ultimately unlike any other: a chronicler of the extremes to which human beings subject one another, whose clarity and precision give his harsh fiction an intensely lyrical and visual luminosity.

Every great writer deserves a tribute like this magnificent gathering. Nathalie Babel has honored her father’s memory and given readers a book to be endlessly reread, and treasured.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-04846-2

Page Count: 992

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2001

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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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