Goodison knows the emotional space she wants her stories to occupy, but most are too brief and simplistic to generate much...



Betrayal is the emotional cornerstone of this collection of Jamaican-set stories by poet and memoirist Goodison (English/Univ. of Michigan, From Harvey River, 2008, etc.).

Each of these 22 stories—most previously published in U.K. and Jamaican collections—is marked by the lyrical patois of Goodison’s characters, who generally hail from the country’s lower-middle classes. Her graceful language, however, too often serves moralizing plots. In “House Colour,” for instance, a young woman rebuffs a wealthy suitor who’s too dim to realize his money doesn’t impress her; lovely lines about her “looking around for some spare love lying accidentally somewhere, a kiss left languidly on a smooth surface” are negated with wooden dialogue in which the man boasts he’ll “lay siege to your life till you surrender…to me.” Well-worn conflicts abound: In “God’s Help,” a woman rejects a church’s charity after she detects a preacher’s insincerity; in “Bella Makes Life,” a man is at a loss to adjust to his wife’s new high standards after she returns from a U.S. trip; in “The Big Shot,” a prideful man tries to cover up his affair with a woman he sees as below his station, before receiving his inevitable comeuppance. Those stories come from a 1990 collection; those drawn from a 2005 book showcase more sophisticated conflicts and moral ambiguity. For instance, “Alice and the Dancing Angel” adds a dose of magical realism to the story of a dancer desperate to escape her life’s degradations, and “Mi Amiga Gran” follows a young girl’s growing self-awareness as her mother’s financial support disappears. “I Come Through,” told in the form of a famous singer recalling her life story for a reporter, ingeniously caps the collection. It's unfortunate that so many thin tales precede it.

Goodison knows the emotional space she wants her stories to occupy, but most are too brief and simplistic to generate much feeling.

Pub Date: May 29, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-212735-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

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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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