A sublime collection that uses compassion and subtle humor to capture heavy moments in lives lived on the margins.

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LAST WORDS OF THE HOLY GHOST

A dozen colorful short stories set in the heart of darkness that is rural America.

This year’s winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction, Cashion (How the Sun Shines on Noise, 2004, etc.) offers a nimble yet emotional portrait of rough-and-tumble small-town denizens trapped in prisons of their own making. The opener, “The Girl Who Drowned at School That Time,” centers on Josephine, a young college graduate who works as the administrative assistant at a local elementary school where one of the students has drowned in a nearby pond. In a Faulkner-ian turn, the town fathers decide that a fish fry is in order, right after they drain the pond and the local hooligans take baseball bats to the turtles. It’s a grotesque play made sadder by Josephine’s cool detachment from it all. The title story, which has been adapted into a short film by director Ben Sharony, is just a heartbreaker. It’s about a boy, Harold, who agrees to be baptized in order to date the girl he idolizes, only for her to abuse his affections in the end. Several stories capture the unique hurt of childhood. In “Penmanship,” a boy tortured by the nuns at his school moves away to live with his lowlife father only to learn some hard life lessons in the process. The real gift of these stories is that they center on some absurdity but never really make fun of the people they're portraying. In “A Serious Question,” a worn-out retiree goes on a pilgrimage to Wal-Mart with the priest who has befriended her, discovering a kind of epiphany in the journey. Another outstanding entry is “Awful Pretty,” a gothic-tinged story about a son who pines for his best friend’s company and struggles with his mother’s dementia.

A sublime collection that uses compassion and subtle humor to capture heavy moments in lives lived on the margins.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-57441-612-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Univ. of North Texas Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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