Still, we probably can’t have too much of Carver’s spare, precisely honed prose in print. One hopes a Collected Stories will...

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THE UNCOLLECTED FICTION AND OTHER PROSE

A presumably final gathering of work left behind by the writer (1938–88) many considered the American Chekhov: a compassionate and artful chronicler of “ordinary” lives.

In her warmhearted foreword, Carver’s widow, Tess Gallagher, describes the discovery and preparation for publication of the five stories that are the real raison d’etre of this otherwise patchy volume (most of whose other contents appeared in the miscellanies Fires, 1989, and No Heroics, Please, 1992). “Vandals” and “Call If You Need Me” employ carefully developed images of separation and conflagration to depict relationships unraveling and children afflicted by their parents’ instability (though the title story does contain the marvelous, and perhaps prophetic, image of horses appearing mysteriously in its protagonists’ front yard). “What Would You Like to See?,” a rigorously understated portrayal of a couple whose closeness is threatened by drinking, is a comparatively shapeless and repetitive version of several earlier, superior stories (surely Carver wasn’t done with it). The old magic resurfaces in “Kindling,” a subtle look at an alcoholic writer estranged from his wife (and “between lives”), who seeks stability in performing chores for the couple with whom he boards, a pair whose surface happiness seems merely a variant strain of his own disorientation. “Dreams”—the best of these five—ingeniously dramatizes the limits of our ability to enter imaginatively into others’ lives, while echoing one of Carver’s most deservedly famous stories, “A Small, Good Thing.” By comparison, the five “Early Stories” are slack and melodramatic, the flat “Fragment of a Novel” a superficial glimpse of (its self-described) “broken-down Hemingway characters.” It’s nice to have the compact literary essays “On Writing” and “Fires” available again, as well as the wonderfully moving “My Father’s Life”—but, as stated, these are available elsewhere.

Still, we probably can’t have too much of Carver’s spare, precisely honed prose in print. One hopes a Collected Stories will appear before long.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-72628-4

Page Count: 285

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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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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