An evocative collection that suggests facets of the author’s vast experience with subtle, often beautiful language.

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THE GUYANESE WANDERER

STORIES

Lyrical short stories capture the personality of author Carew (Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean, 1995, etc.), his South American-Caribbean homeland and its people.

Combining elements of folklore and Guyanese patois with a sophisticated and contemporary eye, these very short stories depict a range of interesting misfits. Some of them are small, such as Belfon, a half-starved child, whose mother brings him to a white benefactor so she can return to her “wild, catch-as-catch-can life.” But most of Carew’s protagonists are larger than life, in both size and actions. Ti-Zek, for example, defies death, reviving a murdered friend and laughing, eventually, over the grave of their oppressor. Caesar, a gentle giant, also laughs, this time at the outright racism of a landlord, while somber Chantal, “built like a Watusi warrior,” is haunted by unhappy love. And for each of these flawed personalities, these mountains of masculinity, there’s a strong, outlaw woman, such as Belle, the six-foot-tall courtesan who could “fight like a tigress,” and Couvade, who initiates the 20-year-old Belfon. Characters recur in this thin collection, fleshing out overarching themes of individual strength and the search for identity. Rather than relying on plot, these brief episodes are profiles of a particular kind of courage. Poor people are fostered by the rich and wonder who they may become; bookish children find paths toward education; and young men follow paths to Europe and the United States. While the patois dialogue can be confusing, and at times may suggest a patronizing attitude toward uneducated country folk, the overall effect of these stories is magical. Almost written more in poetry than prose, they act like delicate gesture drawings, evoking personalities in crisis. By mixing the beauty of the tropics with the harsh realities of poverty, they create a series of striking portraits of a people and their place.

An evocative collection that suggests facets of the author’s vast experience with subtle, often beautiful language.

Pub Date: July 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-932511-50-5

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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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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