However categorized, this fiction rings true.

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A TASTE OF HONEY

STORIES

Though billed as a collection of stories, this fictional debut functions more like a novel, one that compensates with richness of character for what it lacks in narrative momentum.

As a journalist and an academic, Asim (What Obama Means...For Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Future, 2009, etc.) remains more concerned here with sociocultural dynamics than literary formalism. Yet he brings humanizing warmth to his fiction that makes it more than a series of didactic lessons. The setting for each of these stories is the fictional Gateway City, a Midwestern destination for African-Americans following the Great Migration from the South earlier in the 20th century. Sustaining a chronological progression—it would be hard to follow some of the later stories without familiarity with the earlier ones—they track the profound changes in the black North Side neighborhood during a pivotal year culminating in the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The “story” classification allows the author to employ various narrative perspectives, but many of these stories focus on a single family—with a loving mother and father and their three sons, often told through the voice of the youngest, seven-year-old Crispus Jones, who appears to be an authorial stand-in. The stories detail the emergence of Black Power militancy while the church remains the neighborhood’s spiritual bedrock. They show intelligent, talented residents of various generations torn between advancing themselves through the education and employment possibilities that white culture offers and the loyalty to the neighborhood where they have a profound sense of belonging. Most of them know white people mainly through television, and the occasional intrusion by the white-power structure (a rogue cop in particular) invites no closer familiarity. Some of the earlier stories seem more like character studies, vignettes heavier on descriptive detail than plot development, but the cumulative impact is more than the sum of its 16 narratives.

However categorized, this fiction rings true.

Pub Date: March 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-7679-1978-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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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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