Only the title story, an anti-elegy for a World Trade Center victim, demonstrates explicitly how apt Hughes’s title is, for...




Everything about this slender collection of 11 stories from Hughes (Wavemaker II, 2001) rings true except for its ironic title.

Two stories set the pattern for the others. In “Guidance,” an amusingly nitwit leg model named Fawn, spirited off to Jakarta by her much older bridegroom, offers fatuous observations about Indonesia’s deeply polarized economic climate as she gradually reveals what she’s scarcely noticed herself: The have-nots have abducted her as a hostage. In “Rome,” Olivia, a sensitive daughter necessarily kept blind to the realities of her parents’ uneasy marriage, gets a glimmer of their secrets. The other stories feature adults who have to work harder to ignore the harsh facts of life but mostly manage to do so by concentrating obsessively on minutely rendered details. The mother in the lapidary “May Day” thinks about the waves off the marina, the spring flowers—anything but the impending arrival of her estranged daughter Melody. The dutiful dancer in “Pelican Song” does her best to help her mother escape the new husband whose abuse her mother is determined to overlook. The hero of “Roundup” focuses on the breakup of his architectural firm but ignores the more seismic shifts in his family. The title character in “The Widow of Combarelles,” juggling problems great and small, only gradually realizes how much deeper her friend Coren’s pain is than her own. In “Blue Grass,” a young woman struggles to come to terms with her sister’s death from cancer through a complex dance of memory and denial. In “Horse,” a foundering Atlantic City honeymoon is both mirrored and salvaged by the couple’s preoccupation with the famous Diving Horse’s refusal to dive. “The Aces,” the most conventional of the bunch, uses a second honeymoon to Rome to motivate a series of flashbacks showing the marriage declining because the partners just don’t get it.

Only the title story, an anti-elegy for a World Trade Center victim, demonstrates explicitly how apt Hughes’s title is, for the mourners’ happiness is so rare and fleeting that they’re doubly happy to feel happy.

Pub Date: June 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8021-7074-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2010

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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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