Clever fables about nightmares both real and imagined.




Maine-based writer Manderino (The H-Bomb and the Jesus Rock, 2010, etc.) plumbs the depth of domestic horror in these fleeting but beguiling stories about ghosts, murders, monsters, and madmen.

In “A Certain Fellow Named Phil,” our narrator confesses to killing Veronica, an inflatable sex doll. “Nessie” finds a middle schooler obsessed with the sea monster and the sadness of “Puff the Magic Dragon.” In “Bigfoot Tells All,” the mighty beast tells us about his girlfriend (a bear) and the time he ate a person recently: “The look on that man’s face. Priceless.” “Wolfman and Janice” is a domestic drama in the vein of Tom Waits about a werewolf and his girlfriend. The title story finds an old woman frightened of a bump in the night speaking to a dead husband who may or may not be imagined. “I don’t think I’m going to die tonight,” she says. “But I’ll be there soon, George, I’m sure. Meanwhile, be happy, dear. But not completely.” In “No Place Like Home,” a boy wonders about the differences between Dorothy Gale and a local girl named Gloria. “But maybe Dorothy had the right idea, staying close to home,” he ponders. “Gloria’s body was discovered one morning under some bushes in a park two towns away, her bicycle lying nearby.” “Bob and Todd” covers the dialogue between a hitchhiker and a driver who may or may not have a dead body in the trunk. In “Jamey’s Sister,” a dead soldier’s sister must compose a letter to the president. “Mr. President, do you know what you are? You are a monster. You don’t have horns or hoofs or fangs or fur, but that is what you are, a monster,” she writes. Still other stories concern themselves with twisted versions of Barbie, Nancy Drew, and other pop-culture icons.

Clever fables about nightmares both real and imagined.

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61373-475-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Academy Chicago

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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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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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