Swan achieves the best possible of historical tones, neither nostalgic nor sentimental, but simply matter of fact, making...




Canadian Swan debuts with a wonderful collection of 13 stories and a novella.

“It began to seem, after a time, that everyone had something. One thing they’d seen or heard that they couldn’t shake off, that they carried, would carry forever, like a hard, dull stone in the heart.” The quote refers to Swan’s odd gathering of recollections and remembrances—each titled, like a story collection within a story collection—making up the life story of twin girls who seem bent on self-destruction. World War II is included, through letters and testimonials, as the girls, by now women, take part in the war effort only to wind up, at war’s end, committing the desperate act foretold in the beginning. The title piece, a 2001 O. Henry winner, is really a novella—like, say, Tobias Wolff’s “The Barracks Thief”—at least to the extent that it’s a perfect expression of the form. Other “stories,” though, include “Max—1970,” about a young man whose suburban stupor is exacerbated by his father’s trying to teach him how to fix an unbroken washing machine; “In the Story That Won’t Be Written,” about a divorced woman, lamenting the growth of her daughter and her ex’s new life, who tries to find an analogy for her own life in an old photograph that doesn’t offer up a meaningful narrative; and “The Manual of Remote Sensing,” giving a litany of men who come in an out of a woman’s orbit, leaving her with a kind of clairvoyance (“Watching him leave she knew with a sick certainty that he wouldn’t come back, that he would leave her there, lingering over a cold cup of coffee . . . . ”). The characters here often immerse themselves in the past, so it’s no surprise that suicide by water is a recurrent theme.

Swan achieves the best possible of historical tones, neither nostalgic nor sentimental, but simply matter of fact, making her tales of the past ultimately timeless.

Pub Date: April 8, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-50851-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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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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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