These stories are particularly poignant for anyone who grew up gay in America’s desolate places, but Corcoran speaks...

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THE ROPE SWING

STORIES

In this debut book of interconnected stories, Corcoran writes fiercely about the lifelong effects of growing up in a small town on those who leave and those who stay.

He sets the scene in “Appalachian Swan Song,” describing the West Virginia hamlet where these stories are set. “We were mountain people,” Corcoran writes. “The mountains were in our voices and on our worn clothes. We were as sturdy as our old oak trees, everlasting, never changing. We were survivors and subsisters.” The core here is the title story, “The Rope Swing,” about a teenage boy frightened of his growing attraction to a male friend. The internal and external conflicts of gay men are a central theme in “Through the Still Hours,” about a man’s yearning to recapture the passions of his youth. The author turns to the lives of women in “Pauly’s Girl,” about a woman rebuilding her life after losing her platonic partner, and “Felicitations,” a story about a pregnant genetic counselor that is Carver-esque in its dry compassion. The remaining stories are mostly about the reverberations our lives have on us. “Hank the King” finds an aging raconteur struggling with the question of whether he is a good man. “Excavation” finds two teens on the verge of graduation descending into an abandoned school slated for demolition. Corcoran finishes off the collection with two deeply personal stories, “Brooklyn, 4 A.M.” and “A Touch,” which are all about the realization that even if we end up far from home, part of that place and time catches up with us. Corcoran is a remarkably empathetic writer whose subtle portraits capture undeniably tender moments in the lives of his characters.

These stories are particularly poignant for anyone who grew up gay in America’s desolate places, but Corcoran speaks eloquently to all facets of the human condition.

Pub Date: April 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-943665-11-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Vandalia Press/West Virginia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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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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