From high fantasy to monsters to (literally) Hellboy, something for everyone who digs things that go bump in the night.

GROWING THINGS

AND OTHER STORIES

Nineteen eerie short stories from an award-winning writer who clearly embraces literary horror fully.

No lie: The Cabin at the End of the World (2018) was a tough read because it's terrifying in an unusual way, so it’s not a surprise that these frighteningly imaginative slices of horror are often far more chilling than their relatively mundane inspirations. Tremblay, like Joe Hill, Chuck Wendig, Richard Kadrey, and their ilk, is among the best in the literary business but chooses to play in a fairly specific genre, which is pretty much horror taken to another plane. Well-written, yes. But scary as hell, which is an equally admirable trick to accomplish. The title story shows up first, depicting a slow apocalypse via invasive plants not as a panorama but as one family’s bitter end. It also contains the book’s most frightening line: “There are no more stories.” Next is “Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks,” portraying a junkie—SWIM is a cipher for “someone who isn’t me”—who’s trying to describe her addiction online even as some monster might be nearby. We get a couple of hardcore crime stories in “The Getaway,” in which a knockoff artist is struggling to escape his brother’s shadow, and “Nineteen Snapshots of Dennisport,” which might as well have been a deleted scene from Scorsese’s The Departed. The best, most challenging stories are completely meta. “Notes for ‘The Barn in the Wild’ ” details the Blair Witch Project–esque journey of someone trying to get to the bottom of a story while “Something About Birds” finds a writer launching a zine delving into the mysterious history of a famous writer, all structured in unexpected ways. The rest are creepfests inspired by everything from Poe to Lovecraft to King. There’s a little fan service as well—a character who seems to be Karen Brissette from Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts waxes eloquent about the horror genre in the extended “Notes From the Dog Walkers” while the memorable Merry from the same earlier book anchors the equally creepy “The Thirteenth Temple.”

From high fantasy to monsters to (literally) Hellboy, something for everyone who digs things that go bump in the night.

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-267913-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot...

THE RULES OF MAGIC

The Owens sisters are back—not in their previous guise as elderly aunties casting spells in Hoffman’s occult romance Practical Magic (1995), but as fledgling witches in the New York City captured in Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids.

In that magical, mystical milieu, Franny and Bridget are joined by a new character: their foxy younger brother, Vincent, whose “unearthly” charm sends grown women in search of love potions. Heading into the summer of 1960, the three Owens siblings are ever more conscious of their family's quirkiness—and not just the incidents of levitation and gift for reading each other's thoughts while traipsing home to their parents' funky Manhattan town house. The instant Franny turns 17, they are all shipped off to spend the summer with their mother's aunt in Massachusetts. Isabelle Owens might enlist them for esoteric projects like making black soap or picking herbs to cure a neighbor's jealousy, but she at least offers respite from their fretful mother's strict rules against going shoeless, bringing home stray birds, wandering into Greenwich Village, or falling in love. In short order, the siblings meet a know-it-all Boston cousin, April, who brings them up to speed on the curse set in motion by their Salem-witch ancestor, Maria Owens. It spells certain death for males who attempt to woo an Owens woman. Naturally this knowledge does not deter the current generation from circumventing the rule—Bridget most passionately, Franny most rationally, and Vincent most recklessly (believing his gender may protect him). In time, the sisters ignore their mother's plea and move to Greenwich Village, setting up an apothecary, while their rock-star brother, who glimpsed his future in Isabelle’s nifty three-way mirror, breaks hearts like there's no tomorrow. No one's more confident or entertaining than Hoffman at putting across characters willing to tempt fate for true love.

Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot twist—delivering everything fans of a much-loved book could hope for in a prequel.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3747-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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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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