Better titled Where Three Roads Diverge—but do little more than divert.

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WHERE THREE ROADS MEET

Like the NBA-winning Chimera (1972), three linked novellas about sex, heroism and writing.

Having reworked his first novel, The Floating Opera (1956), in several books, Barth returns to his second, The End of the Road (1958), to play variations on the characters in its academic and tragicomic love triangle. “Tell Me” kills off that novel’s sophisticated teacher and panderer, rather than his girlfriend, when he learns she’s pregnant with his friend’s child. “I’ve Been Told: A Story’s Story” extends the life of the novel’s cuckolder, a naif and a would-be hero renamed Phil Blank, into bored middle age and eventual road-side paralysis outside of State College, Pa. “As I Was Saying” is narrated by three elderly sisters who worked their way through college as prostitutes, survived naïve and sophisticated men and inspired books, both a trilogy referred to in their story and Barth’s triptych. Although he mocks biographical criticism, these novellas nevertheless seem an attempt by the wizened and wiser male artist to reverse the conventional fates of fallen women, both his own and others, such as Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina. The spirit is sweet, but Barth continues to test readers with his familiar impediments: extreme narrative self-consciousness, maze-like structures, scarce realistic detail and lots of “inside jokes and allusions.” Although the book is not “pedantical crapola,” as one of its character’s says, it will appeal mostly to Barthophiles who want still more after 16 volumes.

Better titled Where Three Roads Diverge—but do little more than divert.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-61016-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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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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