These 17 tales explore personal and familial relationships with both pathos and humor—and all are well worth reading.

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THE TAO OF HUMILIATION

Masterful stories by a writer of great lyrical gifts.

Upton focuses on personal relationships, especially the immediacy and estrangement that emerge from the intensity of family life. The first story, “The Ideal Reader,” blends fact and fantasy as the narrator presents herself as the biographer of Malcolm Alfred Kulkins, a fictional literary lion and supposed friend of Truman Capote and other glitterati. Mysteriously, Kulkins had published almost nothing during the last 17 years of his life, a period dating from the suicide of Seyla Treat, one of his former loverswith whom he had a daughter, Flame. The biographer ultimately learns that talent is passed across generations when she intuits that some priceless material supposedly left by Kulkins might have been forged by Flame instead. “The Tao of Humiliation” (which one character within the story mishears as the “cow” of humiliation) introduces us to Barry, Everett and Lucas, three men on a retreat in the woods who are forced to confront some unsavory moments of their pasts—and in their farcical misadventures, they don’t seem to have learned from their mistakes. One of the best stories is the wryly comic “You Know You’ve Made It When They Hate You.” Here, a community-theater drama critic continually savages the performances of Molly Crane, a hapless local actress, but by the end of the story, they literally find themselves in hot water when they share a hot tub, and she realizes that she’s “as miserable at being a wife as she was at being an actress.” Upton specializes in ending her stories with epiphanies that can be searing in their poignancy.

These 17 tales explore personal and familial relationships with both pathos and humor—and all are well worth reading.

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-938160-32-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: BOA Editions

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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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