Indeterminate endings undermine a set of otherwise carefully rendered pieces.

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Do As I Say And Not As I Do

A collection of seven curiously crafted tales of malevolence and melancholia.

Lamb’s imagination runs dark, and his stories of haunted lives, repressed memories and sordid pasts creep into the psyche like spiders. The lead story, “You Must Remember This,” features a frustrated woman getting distasteful memories of her daughter systematically erased from her mind. Its themes closely mirror those of the abortion controversy, and this deeply disturbing piece sets the tone for the ensuing stories. All start out strong and feature richly drawn characters but then end abruptly. Only two of the seven tales, both involving handguns, employ this literary device effectively: “Mixed State” and “Grand Guignol” both build to explosive conclusions that are stronger because they aren’t spelled out. One ends: “When the woman pleaded, ‘Please put the gun away; stop pointing it at me,’ Sylvia lowered the .38 so it was pointed at the desk instead of the princess cut diamond, but she told the woman, ‘I can’t put it away because it’s all I have left.’ ” In this case, less is, indeed, more. The same, however, cannot be said for other tales, which, instead of resonating, feel unrealized. In “Pigeon Roost,” for example, a young boy is given the responsibility of warning the rest of his village about an impending Indian attack. In the context of a larger work, the story would make for a fine chapter, but here, it simply doesn’t have enough depth to stand on its own. “Station Approach,” which concludes the collection, is by far the most fully realized and structurally sound tale. This story, about a man who decides to visit his deceased partner’s son, has vivid characters and a sly narrative, as well as a satisfying twist that almost makes up for its open-ended conclusion.

Indeterminate endings undermine a set of otherwise carefully rendered pieces.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1492990468

Page Count: 58

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: 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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