Eight of the forty-seven stories in this welcome volume of Hughes's short fiction have never before been collected, and the rest are from long out-of-print books. The chronological arrangement (the pieces were written between 1919 and 1963) gives us a full appreciation of Hughes's evolution as a man of letters. Three high-school tales not previously collected demonstrate Hughes's youthful social conscience and his early, solid command of his craft. His early protagonists struggle against poverty, leading lives of quiet sorrow. A series of sea stories reflects his own experience as a sailor, all involving trips to the West Coast of Africa, where, variously, sailors fight over a beautiful native girl, a naãve missionary girl commits suicide after a sailor compromises her virtue, and a romantic European is entranced by his African wife. A number of pieces from the '30s concern the black artist's ambivalent relation to his white patrons: In ``The Blues I'm Playing,'' a brilliant pianist defies her condescending sponsor to marry a young doctor; and the bohemians in ``Slave on the Rock'' degrade their black servants while romanticizing the black race. Throughout the Depression, Hughes documented the struggle of blacks simply to survive. In one story, a homeless man hallucinates about breaking into a church and finding Christ himself inside. Hughes's Communist sympathies also surface in a few pieces, as in a tale of racism and red-baiting at the WPA, or the superb record of a failed strike by black actors in ``Trouble with the Angels.'' But many of the stories simply chronicle the vibrancy of Harlem life, the passions of ordinary black people, and the indignities of everyday racism. ``On Friday Morning'' is the heartbreaking tale of an aspiring artist denied her art school scholarship because of her race. Stories that, at their best, provide a remarkable portrait of black America over several crucial decades: an important collection that can only enhance our admiration of a great American writer.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8090-8658-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996

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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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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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