CATHEDRAL

STORIES

With his third collection of stories, Carver has securely hit his stride; his stories seem like no one else's. What they do seem like more and more, in fact, are poems—written in a fiat, Far Western contemporary American style, blankly uninflected for long stretches until a metaphor is slipped around to make a tight cinch at the end. The title story—understandably much-anthologized by now—is perhaps the grandest of these. But equally impressive are: "Chef's House," about a failed marital idyll, with a terrifying but always oblique portrait of a man just about to fall off the wagon; "Vitamins"—an intricate, open-ended story of infidelity, menace, the rawness of daily life; and "Fever," an uncharacteristic story (conventionally upholstered, softly written) in which a man is deserted by his wife and left with two small children—yet somehow is able to reconcile himself to life, with help from an elderly housekeeper of infinite benevolence. Elsewhere, however, Carver's tendency toward the pathetic and the sentimental upsets the delicate balance in his work: "Feathers," a wonderful sketch of a low-rent dinner party (the TV left on, the nuts left in the can, a peacock, a remarkably ugly baby), ends with a shabby piece of narrative comeuppance; "A Small Good Thing," expanded from the last collection, now suffers from a moony conclusion stressing peace and oasis; "Where I'm Calling From" is a wildly sentimental story about a drying-out farm—in sharp contrast to the fine, anti-sentimental studies of alcoholism in "Chef" and "Careful." And when Carver stacks the deck this way, you read with interest but feel a little cheated, reactions elicited by the mix of anesthetized style and heavy, soppy metaphor. Still, when he plays it straight, as in "Cathedral," this storyteller works us magically into that supreme fictional zone of intimacy and surprise—making his third collection, despite its frequent wobbles, a distinguished, powerful book from a very special writer.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1983

ISBN: 0679723692

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1999

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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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