Essential, deeply satisfying fiction from one of the least known of the 20th-century’s greatest writers.

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THE COLLECTED STORIES OF JOSEPH ROTH

An important collection of 17 stories and (brief) novellas, all written between 1916 and 1940 by the Austrian writer whose superb novels (including The Silent Prophet and The Radetzky March) rank among the finest rediscovered fiction of recent decades.

Roth (1894–1939), a Jew born in Galicia, spent much of his brief life in exile, from the rise of Nazism and from his own ironist’s awareness of rigidly ordered old “worlds” collapsing (such as that of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy). Accordingly, his stories concentrate on ambitions unfulfilled and loyalties betrayed, as in the limpid “Barbara”(about a loving woman who means nothing to the men in her life, including the son for whom she sacrifices herself), and “April” (which might have been written by a clinically depressed Turgenev), about a young man on the make who quite casually moves on after his dalliance with a girl who’s too fragile to live. Roth’s genius for brisk characterizations and urgent empathetic voice effortlessly solicit our identification with such wounded and searching characters as the elderly nobleman (of “The Bust of the Emperor”) who continues to perform dutiful acts of charity even after a ruthlessly efficient (Polish) “republic” renders his commitment to noblesse oblige obsolete, and the eponymous protagonist of the Flaubertian “Stationmaster Fallmerayer,” whose romantic obsession with a Russian countess injured in a train wreck slowly, surely detaches him from all his responsibilities and relationships: it’s a compact tragedy of passion concentrated into a harsh, unforgettable 20 pages. Best of all is Roth’s last completed novella “The Leviathan,” about a coral merchant engrossed in a sustaining fantasy suggested by the curious exotic life forms that provide his livelihood, and eventually tempt him to ruin. It all turns on a masterly metaphor for the fragility of a life “that had not been linked to that of any other human being in this world.”

Essential, deeply satisfying fiction from one of the least known of the 20th-century’s greatest writers.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-04320-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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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