A few gems, a few disappointments, a voice to watch.

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BABE IN PARADISE

STORIES

An uneven first collection from writer/filmmaker Silver.

All the characters in these nine stories grapple with the promises that Los Angeles makes but inevitably falls short on. In the title piece, Babe and Delia struggle in vain to hoist buckets of water onto the roof of their rental house in the path of L.A.’s yearly firestorm. It’s just another losing battle, emblematic of their life together crisscrossing America, although this one is worse because it happens in paradise, at the edge of the ocean and the end of the road. Babe turns up in two other stories, a little bit older and a little more hopeless each time. “What I Saw from Where I Stood,” first published in the New Yorker, depicts a young couple getting carjacked and becoming increasingly paranoid. Another young couple, midwesterners hoping to break into the movies, search for a new house with the right image (“Statues”), only to find themselves in the den of old-time pornographers. One of the standouts here, “The Missing,” shows Marianna, a scientist picking over the bones of the past at the La Brea Tar Pits, and her brother Julian, a junkie living on the celebrity fringe, watching in confusion as their usually reticent mother, Dora, decides to give lectures about her survival of the Holocaust. Having never heard the stories herself, Marianna sits in awe among bored teenaged girls as Dora states, “I was afraid that when I said these words, I would start to scream. But now I think I have been screaming all my life.” Also fine is “Gunsmoke,” about a daughter who does voice work in the movies hesitantly reconnecting with her father, once a successful stuntman but now a virtual recluse. Disillusionment is rife, and each of the characters wanders in a perpetual half-land between glamorous salvation and keen disappointment. As one concludes, “Now they could stop looking for Los Angeles, which seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time.”

A few gems, a few disappointments, a voice to watch.

Pub Date: July 23, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-02003-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2001

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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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