A quick, pleasurable set of short stories that track the emotional and intellectual struggles of several young men.

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Medium Hero

Lenker’s debut story collection presents vignettes of relationships between friends, family, and significant others.

These stories straddle a border between an Everyman’s search for meaning and a highly specialized look at modern Americana. They sometimes feature a young, male protagonist named Simon, whose emotional distance and general dissolution funnel into his sharp, critical view of the world around him. It’s never made explicit whether it’s the same Simon across the different narratives, or extensions of the same ethos, but this lack of distinction works well in stories that slip easily between humor and darkness. In “Pro Wrestling,” for example, Simon and his girlfriend get into an argument that threatens the emotional strength of their relationship before attending a violent (semipro) wrestling match. Lenker’s other recurring protagonist shares his own first name—Korby—and some of Simon’s tendencies toward sharp analysis. The stories, from time to time, touch on the function of religion in their characters’ lives. The author highlights Christianity, a strong belief in God, and the power of prayer in “Everyone Has a Miranda Moment,” in which Korby receives a frantic call from his brother, Keegan, relating to his infant nephew’s dire health. Other stories more tangentially reference spiritual beliefs. The title story is the most harrowing, featuring an unnamed, third-person protagonist whose own perceived lack of remarkability leads him to consider ending his life on a friend’s balcony. Following “Medium Hero” is a single-page, flash-fiction piece, “Twitter Translator,” which, in spite of its cleverness, is disparate from the rest of the collection. “Two Red Rings” revisits Korby during a police traffic stop after he’s been speeding on the highway with a marijuana joint in hand, but what starts as a moment of panic winds up as an encouraging interaction between Korby and the officer as they connect over their mutual love for a particular musical instrument. 

A quick, pleasurable set of short stories that track the emotional and intellectual struggles of several young men. 

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-68162-374-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Turner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2015

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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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