These stories exploring how life on the water affects everyday people make for amiable reading, but they become most...

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THE TIME THE WATERS ROSE

AND STORIES OF THE GULF COAST

In Ruffin’s new collection, men, boats, and bodies of water collide unexpectedly, with results that are often humorous, violent, or both.

Most of the eight stories contained in this collection—really, seven, along with an excerpt from Ruffin’s novel Pompeii Man (2002)—are largely set, as the title indicates, around the Gulf Coast. The title story is an exception: it’s a loose and irreverent retelling of the story of Noah building the ark, from the perspective of one of his neighbors, who isn’t terribly thrilled with the idea of dying in a flood. Given the casual tone in which the story is narrated, there’s more than a little rural America here—Scripture reimagined as a kind of barroom tall tale. Fishing, whether for sport or for one’s livelihood, plays a large part in several other stories, and in some, stories nestle within stories. “Mystery in the Surf at Petit Bois” and “The Hands of John Merchant” convey the details of friendship between men with unpleasant glimmerings beneath the surface, and in “The Drag Queen and the Southern Cross,” Ruffin moves from a comedy of manners to an account of fanaticism and violence aboard a shrimp boat. (That’s the Drag Queen of the title, its name a reference to the work it does rather than the more well-known meaning of the phrase.) In it, a trio working on a boat take on a temporary employee whose religious devotion ultimately gives way to something more sinister. It’s memorably unpredictable.

These stories exploring how life on the water affects everyday people make for amiable reading, but they become most compelling when Ruffin taps into the bleaker impulses found below a more cordial facade.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61117-614-8

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Story River Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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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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