THE RETURN OF SIMPLE

A welcome reintroduction to the pioneering African-American writer's most memorable fictional character. Already a popular poet, playwright, novelist, and key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes (1902-67) introduced Jesse B. Semple (``Simple'') to readers in 1942 in his Chicago Defender column, ``From Here to Yonder,'' as a way to convince black Americans to support the US war effort. From his familiar perch in a fictional Harlem bar, Simple held forth on a variety of subjects in his own inimitable, folksy way, and over the next 23 years his musings were collected in five volumes. The Return of Simple brings together mostly uncollected columns as well as a few favorites from previous collections. Simple's sometimes tall tales of growing up in the South and migrating to Harlem are timeless. Race riots, low wages, interracial marriages, adopting an African name, and birth control are some of the subjects on which he expounds to his erudite, educated fellow barfly, who always acts the straight man. Then there is Simple's favorite subject—``womens,'' including his wild cousin Minnie (``The Lord, I reckon, gave her them ball- bearing hips, but the Devil must of taught her how to use them''); Zarita, who is always ``drinking him up''; and his second wife, Joyce (``Eve in the garden could not be no better, because Eve had no stove on which to cook''). Simple speaks with a poetic and easy logic (``It is better to be wore out from living than to be worn out from worry'') in a voice that comes straight out of the African-American folk tradition, but Hughes's slices of urban black life belong also to the larger continuum of great American humor, from Mark Twain to Armistead Maupin. Quite simply, an indispensable part of our cultural heritage.

Pub Date: July 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8090-8676-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1994

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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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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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