Not just for ghost addicts.

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20TH CENTURY GHOSTS

A collection of pleasantly creepy stories follows Hill’s debut novel (Heart Shaped Box, 2007).

Published in a number of magazines from 2001 to the present, most of the stories display the unself-conscious dash that made Hill’s novel an intelligent pleasure. In addition to the touches of the supernatural, some heavy, some light, the stories are largely united by Hill’s mastery of teenaged-male guilt and anxiety, unrelieved by garage-band success or ambition. One of the longest and best, “Voluntary Committal,” is about Nolan, a guilty, anxious high-school student, Morris, his possibly autistic or perhaps just congenitally strange little brother, and Eddie, Nolan’s wild but charming friend. Morris, whose problems dominate but don’t completely derail his family’s life, spends the bulk of his time in the basement creating intricate worlds out of boxes. Eddie and Nolan spend their time in accepted slacker activities until Eddie, whose home life is rough, starts pushing the edges, leading to real mischief, a big problem for Nolan who would rather stay within the law. It’s Morris who removes the problem for the big brother he loves, guaranteeing perpetual guilt and anxiety for Nolan. “My Father’s Mask” is a surprisingly romantic piece about a small, clever family whose weekend in an inherited country place involves masks, time travel and betrayal. The story least reliant on the supernatural may leave the most readers pining for a full-length treatment: “Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead” reunites a funny but failed standup comedian with his equally funny ex-high school sweetheart Harriet, now married and a mother. Bobby has come back to Pittsburgh, tail between his legs, substitute teaching and picking up the odd acting job, and it is on one of those gigs, a low-budget horror film, that the couple reconnects, falling into their old comedic rhythms.

Not just for ghost addicts.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-114797-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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