WHERE I'M CALLING FROM

SELECTED STORIES

Carver's shrewd new publisher here repackages 30 stories—a few with new titles—from his four collections, and includes seven uncollected pieces, one of which has never seen print. This selection spans 25 years and provides the perfect opportunity to assess an acclaimed career. For the most part, Carver's seven new pieces add little to his inflated reputation. The trite imagery, the deliberately stale language, and the unintentional bathos—all the elements of Carver's common-man pose—continue to generate tales of failure and false promise, a neo-proletarian rhetoric of victimization and survival. His male narrators often wallow in self-pity, and their problems usually concern women. In "Boxes," a divorced man's mother—herself a lonely widow—moves nearby, making his life miserable with her constant complaining, though her packing up to move again only makes him feel worse. Another story with a single dominant, hard image—"Menudo"—is about "a middle-aged man involved with his neighbor's wife," a state of affairs that forces him to realize his failures with women: his mother, his ex-wife, his present wife. "Intimacy" elaborates on this theme for, here, the narrator shows up unannounced at his ex-wife's house where the shrew harangues him about the past—a past he's already exploited in his "work." More Roth-like reflections on success underpin "Elephant," in which the narrator complains about all those who rely on him for money—his "greedy" mother, his hapless brother, his former wife, his son in college, his white-trashy daughter with children. While this tiresome tale ends with a sloppily sentimental affirmation, "Whoever Was Using This Bed" finds no such hope for the husband and wife who obsess about "death and annihilation," and their bad health and habits. The only surprise in this volume is the final story—a fictional re-creation of Chekhov's death, based largely on memoirs, that's quite unlike any of Carver's previous work, and may signal a new stage in his development, away from the clichÉs of contemporary rootlessness. Regardless of Carver's actual achievement, his spare and simple style has set the tone for a generation of story writers, so that this. ample volume serves as the best introduction to what's happening in contemporary short fiction.

Pub Date: May 31, 1988

ISBN: 0679722319

Page Count: 548

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1988

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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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