Dark and sexually violent, Shepard's work can disturb—but her sharp prose and insights into the human psyche make it worth...

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KISS ME SOMEONE

Women bear the dark consequences of infidelity, lies, and other betrayals.

Novelist Shepard (The Celestials, 2013, etc.) has turned her keen eye to short fiction centered on the underbellies of the lives and relationships of women. The opening story, “Popular Girls,” about private school students in New York, begins with an almost anthropological survey: “You know who we are. We’re Kaethe and Alina, CJ and Sydney, Stephanie. We’re Asian or Scandinavian, white or vaguely black.” But if the reader expects an overview of Manhattan mean girls, the story quickly turns even more barbed than that when the popular girls—sophomores in high school—get into a limo with some strange men and end up, via a nightclub, at a strange apartment. Though the collective narrator admits to feeling “uneasy,” the story ends, “Do with us what you dare. Do with us what you can.” The chill of this ending shadows the whole book. In “Fire Horse,” a woman courts an incestuous affair with her brother. In “Girls Only,” the memory of their failure to help a friend during a sexual assault haunts a group of bridesmaids. Although many of the stories investigate the tangled aftermath of sexual anguish—from affairs with married men to gang rape—the greatest stories in this collection, “Light as a Feather” and “A Fine Life,” both look at relationships between a daughter and a parent. These stories take Shepard’s fascination with cruelty and soften those edges. “Light as a Feather” juxtaposes a stillbirth with the narrator’s relationship with her mother, who suffers from dementia. “A Fine Line” examines a woman’s unusual career path working with chimps and her past as a defector from communist China.

Dark and sexually violent, Shepard's work can disturb—but her sharp prose and insights into the human psyche make it worth the read.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941040-75-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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