Though the circumstances here are often dismally bleak, at her best Buckingham offers glimmers of pale but definite hope.

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THE EXPENSE OF A VIEW

Buckingham’s 14 stories about loss, abandonment, and loneliness won the 2016 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction.

Wherever they live, from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Seattle to rural Oregon, the characters here are damaged goods, sometimes to the point of suicidal hopelessness, as in "The Island of Cats,” or merely caricature, like the family of criminals and deadbeats in “The Grandmother’s Vision.” Whether the cause is actual abandonment, as in “Three of Swords,” or a parent’s death, in “How to Make an Island,” the result tends to be a fearful adult like Myer in “Thinking About Carson,” who is unable to sustain a relationship. But not always. One of the most moving stories, “Festival,” concerns two teenage parents, Sheila and Nick, attending a music festival with their baby, Michelle; escaping troubled families, the two seem doomed to fail as parents and as a couple, especially Nick, who meanders through the festival wishing he could return to his former carefree irresponsibility. But as he grudgingly begins to accept the mantle of dependable adulthood, he discovers the grace of loving his child. Less intense is the examination of lost possibilities, represented in the story “Honey” by a dead dog, or of unadorned loneliness examined in the title story about a young woman whose attempt to break up with her boyfriend doesn’t quite work out. The fragility of children figures prominently in some of the best stories. In “My Old Man,” a mother caring for her cancer-ridden 7-year-old son learns to do whatever it takes; “Night Train” weaves a powerful web of memories while exploring a man’s mix of guilt and grief over his son’s accidental death; and in “Blue Plastic Shades,” the travails of a small boy grappling with his mother’s mysterious disappearance and his father, who's lost to grief, gradually soften into a possibility that father and son might heal together.

Though the circumstances here are often dismally bleak, at her best Buckingham offers glimmers of pale but definite hope.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-57441-647-3

Page Count: 196

Publisher: Univ. of North Texas Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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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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