Still, as the Shamus-winning “Dead Drunk” (who’s pouring water over homeless men who end up literally frozen?) shows, when...




In her brief introduction to this nine-story retrospective, the chronicler of upscale attorney Laura Di Palma and struggling-scale attorney Willa Janssen explains that several of them began life as full-fledged novels, and it shows. “Dream Lawyer,” which pits Willa against a just-offstage Laura; “Easy Go,” about a disbarred lawyer struggling to earn a second chance at respectability; and, best of all, the title story, which drags a divorcée into defending her husband for killing his second wife—each of them has enough surprises, and enough warmth, to sustain half a dozen lesser efforts. And Matera, editor most recently of Irreconcilable Differences (1999), obligingly supplies several lesser efforts so you can compare. “Performance Crime” is a silly tale of cereal murder and other pun-addled felonies that shows its gifted author marking time, and “Do Not Resuscitate” is the sort of ironic étude you’ve read a hundred times before. “The River Mouth” (a troubled romantic pair from the city meets a Yurok woman who tells them more about themselves than they wanted to know) and “If It Can’t Be True” (a terrorist’s demand for his sister to be released from a mental institution goes fatally awry) are both more successful as atmospheric sketches than achieved stories. Of all the non-attorney exhibits in evidence here, only “Destroying Angel” (a fungus expert meets her match in some lethal mushrooms) stacks up to the stories about the criminal bar.

Still, as the Shamus-winning “Dead Drunk” (who’s pouring water over homeless men who end up literally frozen?) shows, when you do want a lawyer, you can’t do better than Matera.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7862-2537-8

Page Count: 173

Publisher: Five Star/Gale Cengage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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