Masterful stories that peel away at the thin border between everyday life and profane violence in modern-day Mexico.

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MEXICO

Twelve crime-tinted short stories from an American writer who lives part-time in Mexico.

There’s a Carver-esque quality to these painterly portraits of everyday people living in and around Mexico City. Barkan (Before Hiroshima: The Confession of Murayama Kazuo and Other Stories, 2011, etc.) brings a journalist’s eye to his stories and lends each of his primary characters a believable sympathy and often a life-changing moment. Despite the inherent compassion in many of these stories, there’s also an underpinning of violence from Mexico’s ongoing drug war that gives them a very unsettled air. In the opener, “The Chef and El Chapo,” a highly trained chef is faced with the unenviable task of making a delicious dish for the infamous head of the Sinaloa Cartel—using only two ingredients. Desperate to save a restaurant full of potential victims from harm, the chef dishes up slices of Wagyu beef seasoned with a child’s blood. In “The God of Common Names,” a Jewish schoolteacher tries to protect a star-crossed romance between two of his students and learns a hard lesson about faith and redemption. In “I Want to Live,” an angry cancer patient confronts a famous and beautiful woman about her scars. Sometimes the violence in these stories is casual, as related by the narrator of “Acapulco,” who blithely tells a tale of nightclubbing that ends in an execution. Yet in the very next story, “The Kidnapping,” the violence is visceral and ugly and very real. “The cry from that woman, there was no faking there,” says the narrator. “They take a pair of kitchen shears. They run it up along the skin. They scrape your knuckles with the edge of the blade of the scissors, until they bleed. I know how they do it, 'cause later they took one of my fingers off and sent it to my family. This is what they do.”

Masterful stories that peel away at the thin border between everyday life and profane violence in modern-day Mexico.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-90629-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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