A series of frustrating near-misses from an obviously talented writer.

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FIDELITY

Faith, keeping it or breaking it, is the theme that ties together a debut collection from Canadian novelist Redhill (Martin Sloane, 2002).

The opening tale, “Mount Morris,” illustrates Redhill’s strengths and weaknesses. Tom and Lillian’s marriage fell apart over whether to have kids, but for 12 years they have had cordial if edgy annual reunions. This year will be different: Tom has a new romance that prompts feelings stronger than any he had for his wife. Redhill writes gracefully; his characters are appealing. Yet Tom never delivers his big news, and a low-stakes story fizzles out. The closing piece, “Human Elements,” has similarly low stakes. Russell, a depressed poet, has retreated to a lakeside cabin. A young couple invades his space: Kate and Sylvain, who are tagging frogs for an environmental project, may be breaking up, but does it really matter? The details of frog life steal the show. In some stories, the stakes are high, but the resolution is botched. “The Victim, Who Cannot Be Named,” for example, shows Peter and Margot Bowman undone by the discovery of a three-way sex video involving their 17-year-old daughter. These calm, enlightened parents are suddenly at sea, and their domestic shipwreck is beautifully rendered. Then Peter turns into a quite improbable vigilante, ruining everything. “A Lark” also seems all set to strike sparks. Bergman is pushing 40, happily married, a middle-management type living in Toronto. On assignment in distant Calgary, he has a liberating affair with a young trainee at his company. But Bergman abruptly ends it, and the story winds down ever so slowly, with the adulterer home free and no payoff. Other tales here falter with a dubious premise. In “Cold,” Paul gets word that former college roommate Louis is in a funk after the collapse of his marriage and flies to Europe to help him through it. Yet Louis is the same bore he always was, and Paul’s sense of obligation is mystifying.

A series of frustrating near-misses from an obviously talented writer.

Pub Date: March 23, 2004

ISBN: 0-316-73499-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2004

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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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