Vital, vivid, and angry.

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WAKE, SIREN

OVID RESUNG

Provocative reinterpretations of some very old stories.

MacLaughlin was a classics major before she began a career working with wood, so anyone who read her memoir, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter (2015), may remember the occasional quotation from Ovid. In this collection of stories, she finds her main subjects in the Roman poet’s Metamorphoses. MacLaughlin has set herself a considerable challenge. Ovid was writing about 2,000 years ago, and people have been translating and riffing on his poems—which were, themselves, based on well-known myths—ever since. Of course, the fact that artists continue to find inspiration in Daedalus and Icarus and Hercules and the Fall of Troy is testament to their power and mutability, but this means that MacLaughlin is inviting comparison to everyone from Homer to Walt Disney Studios. One way she sets herself apart is by focusing on female characters, many of them less well known to a contemporary audience. This choice creates its own challenge, though, in that so many of these stories are about rape. MacLaughlin succeeds in making these stories fresh and distinct by allowing her protagonists to speak in their own voices. This creates stylistic variety across stories, but it also makes a powerful point. In so many of these tales, a human woman or wood nymph or other female who attracts the attention of a lustful god or an angry goddess is turned into an inanimate object or dumb beast. She literally loses her voice. Indeed, even when these heroines can speak, the patriarchal culture in which they live robs their words of meaning. Io says “No” to Jove, but she finds that the language she knows no longer has any power. The sounds she makes are no more meaningful than the lowing of the white cow she will become. Some of these stories have distinctly modern touches—Galatea faints at a 7-Eleven because she’s been on a fasting cleanse—but these moments only reinforce a sense of timelessness. There have always been men who will not hear when women speak.

Vital, vivid, and angry.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-53858-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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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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