You often write on the topic of jealousy." So says a chance acquaintance to narrator I.B. Singer in one of the 20 stories here. And never before has the Singer preoccupation with sexual jealousy, or romantic disillusionment, seemed so intense (and so limiting) as it does in this new collection—which occasionally beguiles but mostly disappoints. In one tale after another, the same scenario—usually set in pre-WW II Poland—unfolds predictably: a man discovers that the woman he loves is unfaithful, a "whore" whose betrayal turns the man into a bitter cynic. Three stories offer a clinical variant on this model: the married man (perhaps latently homosexual) who encourages his wife's adultery. Even "The Last Gaze," about the funeral of an elderly man's middle-aged girlfriend, turns into another faithless-woman fable. And only one version—"The Bitter Truth," in which the husband remains blissfully ignorant about the wife's perfidy—provides enough texture or twist to sustain interest once the formula takes over. When Singer does explore other subject-matter here, the results are generally thin and anecdotal. In "Disguised," a wife discovers her ex-husband's sexual secret: territory covered more richly in earlier Singer stories. "The Missing Line" and "The Accuser and the Accused" offer strange, mildly intriguing happenings from the Yiddish Writers' Clubs of Singer's past. Quirks of character—obsessive gift-giving, blind passion—are the subtance of "Gifts" and "Dazzled." The supernatural turns up in three pieces: "The Jew from Babylon" is a miracle—worker losing his lifelong battle against the "Evil Ones"; "Sabbath in Gehenna" is a whimsical glimpse of political unrest among the sinners of Hell; the title story treats ancient Methuselah to hellish visions of corrupt, kinky Sodom—which make him welcome death. And "Logarithms" features the conflict between secular intellect and religious orthodoxy. Only one story, in fact, has the full-bodied flavor—if not the full development—of prime Singer: "The Hotel," about the meeting of two unhappily retired businessmen in Miami. Completely missing are the richly autobiographical excursions that gave some previous collections such mischievous bounce. So this is very much lesser Singer: always readable, of course, but rather monotonic and undernourished.

Pub Date: April 1, 1988

ISBN: 0140186980

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1988

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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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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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