PRETENDING THE BED IS A RAFT

STORIES

An entertaining and occasionally dazzling first collection from Kincaid, the Florida-born author of the novel Crossing Blood (1992). With a single exception, these eight stories focus on girls or women who can't make sense out of their relationships with men or with their own addled and demanding emotions. And even that exception, ``Why Richard Can't,'' looks sympathetically at a middle-aged English professor's unwillingness to change or to leave the wife he's comfortable with for the woman student whose mind and body alike excite his interest. Too many of Kincaid's characters, in fact, talk away at us from conditions of frustrating stasis: the girl who can't make her inattentive, straying father notice her (in ``Pretty Please''), or the twice-married woman who knows she'll fail again if she takes the lover she's considering (in the smartly titled ``Total Recoil''). The good news is that Kincaid's women are expert nonstop talkers, vernacular virtuosi who can make you howl with a deftly placed one-liner (``I don't have anything against boys from reform school''), or sit bolt upright upon hearing a forthright woman's description of the guilt felt by an unfaithful husband (``like his penis was the arrow on a compass and he suddenly remembered it was always supposed to be pointing north''). And two of the stories are flat-out wonderful. ``Just Because They've Got Papers Doesn't Mean They Aren't Still Dogs'' traces with wry compassion the education in female solidarity and self- knowledge that expands the horizons and strengthens the character of a childless small-town football coach's wife. And the moving title piece portrays, without a shred of sentimentality, the sexual and intellectual awakening of a young wife and mother who learns she's dying of cancer, and scorns to go gently into anybody's good night. Good, gritty work from a vigorous talent. Kincaid may well blossom into one of the better storytellers around.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 1997

ISBN: 1-56512-177-5

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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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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