Riveting if polemical, and mostly bleak, depictions of America.

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THE NEW ORDER

Bender, whose last book of stories (Refund, 2015, etc.) was a National Book Award finalist, generally uses world events as the background for fiction focused on domestic life, but these 11 stories make our current sociopolitical landscape the subject.

“Where To Hide in a Synagogue” sets the volume’s demoralized tone; while discussing with a friend how to protect their congregation from attack, a woman realizes their relationship won’t survive their disagreement over whom to trust or fear. Fear, along with anger and guilt, defines all the female, mostly Jewish characters here. Years after a woman is sexually assaulted in “The Elevator,” the trauma affects her behavior in another elevator. The protagonist’s financial panic underlies “Three Interviews” as she loses three job offers by inadvertently heightening the secret fears (maternal, romantic, medical) of her interviewers. Hidden hurts and fears push ultraconservative “Mrs. America” to campaign for the Senate whatever the moral and psychological cost. In “This Is Who You Are,” a teenager in 1974 struggles with both her Jewish identity and guilt over ostracizing a friend misused by a predatory teacher. The title story knots guilt and fear even more tightly as two contemporary middle-aged women admit the very different guilt each has carried since a deadly shooting at their 1970s middle school. While these stories explore relationships along with issues, “The Department of Happiness and Reimbursement” abandons domestic realism, imagining a near future in which all jobs are government controlled, walled compounds house the unemployed, and a “national game show” awards contestants abandoned mansions. Liberal condescension mars “On a Scale of One To Ten,” about nonobservant Jews who briefly consider enrolling their child in a Christian school before rejecting “Jesus’s desire to love us.” The closing story, “The Cell Phones,” about a Rosh Hashanah service interrupted by needy callers, offers a tiny sliver of optimism for those willing to listen to each other.

Riveting if polemical, and mostly bleak, depictions of America.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64009-099-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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