Mayes's debut of interconnected short stories explores the common themes of love and sexuality with a fresh new sensitivity. Omar and Bennie are the childhood friends whose wanderings, relationships, and loves make up this book as Mayes follows the lives of gay men from initial encounters with homosexuality to commitment to lifelong companions. He is especially strong in his descriptions of young boys' first experiences, which range from comic and obvious to sweet and subtle. During the summer of 1971 (``Peggy Hagerman's Bikini'') in Mud Lake, Mich., Omar and Bennie's fascination with a precocious neighbor evolves from stealing her bathing suit to wearing women's clothes to trying to con the town's teenage Don Juan into dating Bennie; in the end, their dress-up game proves more than a meaningless escapade. In ``International Male,'' an uncle tries to ease his gay nephew's transition into adulthood with honest advice like ``you got to know for sure [you're gay] before you go making plans.'' On a more subtle note, (``Cow Girl''), Omar's lover remembers the confusing sexual tension that coursed through the house when his cousin and her girlfriend screamed, laughed, and made rhythmic slapping noises behind the guest bedroom door—offering him a close-up glimpse at forbidden love. Mayes also paints convincing portraits of men struggling with their sexual identities: In ``Only in French,'' Omar, now a college student in Manhattan, unsuccessfully balances a girlfriend, love for his male roommate, and the disturbing news of a nearby murder during a gay-bashing spree. There are some flat and confusing moments in the finale, ``Saint Peter Cut to Pieces,'' with its visions of a dismembered saint, and the opening, ``Oblivion,'' with its disoriented old man and his retarded daughter. But elsewhere, when Mayes stays away from fantasy and illusion, his everyday shines with an extraordinary light. Gentle, endearing, sometimes campy, appropriately crass, often wry, always funny.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-55583-258-X

Page Count: 303

Publisher: Alyson

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • New York Times Bestseller



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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet