A strange and not altogether satisfying mix: newcomer Vaswani takes up certain themes, but her work seems not to have found...

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WHERE THE LONG GRASS BENDS

STORIES

Thirteen stories by Indian-American Vaswani.

The experiences of immigrants (or of their children) who have come to America but not quite found their feet here provides much of Vaswani’s material in stories that play with the notions of culture and homeland from a variety of perspectives. The protagonist of “Bing-Chen,” for example, is a half-Chinese, half-American adolescent who ventures into Chinatown for a haircut and reflects on his own inability to feel truly at home in either white or Asian society. In “Domestication of an Imaginary Goat,” a young Indian woman in New York fantasizes with her American boyfriend about the home that she knows they will never have. Some of the tales are set abroad: The title story, for instance, is about the travails of a young orphaned girl living in a Catholic boarding school in India during an election riot, while “Sita and Mrs. Durber” follows a schoolteacher in India who tries to help a precocious but withdrawn girl. “Bolero” is the story of a boy who grows up on a farm during the Spanish Civil War and manages with some difficulty to emigrate to America, where he studies at Juilliard and goes on to become an orchestra conductor, while “Blue, Without Sorrow” offers a short family history from the perspective of a melancholy Mexican woman who recovered from a mortal illness as a girl and later moves to Arizona (after her father dies). There are also simpler stories that stand stylistically apart from the rest, like “The Rigors of Dance Lessons,” about a husband and wife who (in what becomes an apparent metaphor of their marriage) sign up for dance lessons.

A strange and not altogether satisfying mix: newcomer Vaswani takes up certain themes, but her work seems not to have found an overriding focus or coherence.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-889330-96-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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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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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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