Cleareyed observations and a unique cast improve this predictable collection.

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THE FORTUNE TELLER AND OTHER SHORT WORKS

From Avery (A Curious Host, 2016, etc.), a macabre collection of short stories that meanders into sci-fi territory.

Vivid characters from the fringes populate these pages. Readers meet Dr. Henry Woodridge, a dentist “hemorrhaging any affection he may have once felt” for his wife of 32 years in “When the Magic Disappears.” In “The Fortune Teller,” Maria has her fortune read by a Roma who predicts she’ll become an Osteomorph, a fantastical creature that “must have bones that are light and free from density.” “The Captain” follows a Navy vet who longs to set sail in his own boat, so he builds one…only to discover it won’t fit through the door frame. Nature is a recurring theme. “The Frog” contemplates how an amphibian rose to the top of the forest animals’ administration, while “A Morning Spill” speaks from the perspective of the bay, the sun, and a gull. The author also plays with form, crafting an obituary to a Siamese fighting fish in “Good-Bye Mr. Fish” and using letters from one woman to another, sans responses, in “Letters to Kay.” Avery paints an impressive picture of the natural world with atmospheric descriptions, like “the day dripped gray all morning” and tree leaves that “curl as crisp as pork rinds.” Character descriptions are equally sharp. Miss Geller’s “narrow red lips extended into a scarlet crinkle,” and Gary “smelled like bologna from breakfast.” Unfortunately, many of these stories lack surprise. In “Hungry Hill,” a woman’s Himalayan kitten disappears under suspicious circumstances after she leaves it with several ne’er-do-wells. In “When the Magic Disappears,” Dr. Woodridge plots to poison his wife with radiation only to discover something the reader may too easily guess. The handful of prose poems proves diverting enough but doesn’t add to the overall narrative.

Cleareyed observations and a unique cast improve this predictable collection.

Pub Date: July 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-54393-184-6

Page Count: 140

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2018

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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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