With precise storytelling, Martin chronicles the unrest in his characters’ lives and the shocking moments when tensions...



Quiet traumas and long-festering emotional wounds abound in this collection.

Elucidating the tensions that can arise over a long period of intimacy, or that can emerge from an unspoken sense of resentment, can be a difficult thing to pull off in fiction. At their best, the stories in Martin’s (Late One Night, 2016, etc.) collection offer an impressive demonstration of just how to convey these trying emotional states. Martin’s stories frequently encompass decades’ worth of events in the lives of their characters. Ancil and Lucy, the couple at the center of “The Last Civilized House,” have been together for 55 years as the story opens. When Lucy reconnects with an old flame, there’s a weight to the accumulation of events and a power that keeps the narrative unpredictable as secrets and resentments slowly come to the foreground. There’s plenty of tension in these tightly wound connections between characters. The protagonist of “Bad Family,” Lily Chang, recalls coming-of-age in China in the time of Chairman Mao. Since then, years have passed; she’s now living in Nebraska, maintaining an unlikely bond with her ex-husband and his new wife. Her decision to begin sending anonymous, threatening letters to the couple complicates matters—but it also feels somewhat arbitrary, an unexpectedly violent act whose motives and consequences require more space to fully explore. But the best of these stories also showcase an impressive restraint: The narrator of the title story gives a detailed account of his bonds with each of his estranged parents, but passing allusions to certain events—one character’s time in prison, for example—create an even grander sense of interconnection. Sudden moments of violence outnumber epiphanies in these stories, and the effect creates a quiet melancholy.

With precise storytelling, Martin chronicles the unrest in his characters’ lives and the shocking moments when tensions reach their breaking points.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-945814-49-5

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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