Intriguing and unsettling in equal measure despite occasionally dreary dialogue.

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DEATH DO US PART

A collection of short stories by brothers J.L. Salter and Charles A. Salter that centers on murder and the uncanny.

These 10 tales span multiple genres, including mystery and SF. The opening story, J.L. Salter’s “Buddies Forever,” is by far the most thought-provoking; it tells of Donague and Donahue, two soldiers who fight together in the Vietnam War. When a rookie accidentally pulls the pin on a grenade, one of the two main characters wakes up in an evacuation hospital with his eyes bandaged, but confusion about his identity leads to an unexpected revelation. Other stories by the same author present a wife whose husband may be poisoning her (“Murder on her Mind”) and a bedroom clock that’s mysteriously affecting time itself (“Time Conscious”). The stories by Charles A. Salter include “A Lousy Way To Rye,” a delirious first-person narrative about a bioterrorism attack; “That ASMR Girl,” about top-ranking officers mysteriously dropping dead at an Army base; and “The Caves of Lonesanne Blu,” set in an alternate reality in which Lord Oonain, a war veteran, has been sentenced to death. J.L. Salter writes gripping action, exemplified by a flashback in “Buddies Forever” in which the soldier remembers diving on the stray grenade: “Then the scene sped up to real time—as real as time gets in vivid dreams—and I shoved Donahue’s body out of the way before I grabbed my helmet and threw myself on top of the grenade.” Charles A. Salter’s prose has a boldly surreal edge, as demonstrated in “A Lousy Way To Rye”: “The worst day of my life began as I noticed my left arm falling off. Luckily it wasn’t my dominant one.” Neither author writes consistently snappy dialogue, however, and at times, the conversations can prove laborious: “ ‘Bill, we should visit Darren…maybe take a casserole or something.’ ‘I can pick up something at the deli tomorrow.’ ‘Tomorrow… right.’ ” Despite this weakness, the stories’ events are sufficiently curious and unnerving to make for compelling reading.

Intriguing and unsettling in equal measure despite occasionally dreary dialogue.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-65426-073-6

Page Count: 186

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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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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