An intriguing, if uneven, collection of stories from a writer with potential.

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STRINGS

AN ANTHOLOGY

Singh’s debut short story collection explores the intricacies of human emotion among everyday people.

This set of 13 stories, split into two sections, ranges from a tale about the seemingly mundane aggravation of waiting for home repair to stories of karma tales and supernatural visits from beyond the grave. Despite its outwardly disparate parts, Singh’s pieces are connected by the theme of a group of characters desperately fighting to escape their current circumstances, assert their self-worth or battle their base inner demons. There are no real happy endings here, and more than a few stories tend toward the macabre. The most successful pieces, however, contain flashes of real beauty. For example, in “The Only Absolute Relief,” the author captures the exquisite pain of a person yearning for a better life and the crushing emptiness after he realizes that the dream wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The collection abounds with flawed, achingly human, deftly drawn characters. Many of them are, through no fault of their own, cast out, down on their luck and seeking redemption. Few receive it. The stories do suffer at times from a somewhat heavy hand; some readers may find its long, run-on sentences distracting or discouraging. The stories in the book’s second section, most 10 pages or fewer in length, seem underdeveloped compared to those in the first, and despite intriguing storylines and robust characters, they often lack depth and resolve too quickly. The last piece, “Chief Flightless Bird,” for example, about a disabled, married man, starts off strong with genuine feeling but, at just over four pages long, doesn’t have the time to develop into the powerful ending needed for this collection.

An intriguing, if uneven, collection of stories from a writer with potential.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-1479270989

Page Count: 188

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2013

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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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