A gripping collection of yarns in which social disadvantages take on monstrous shapes.

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DARK CORNERS

Racism and homophobia are among the eerie phenomena haunting these tense stories.

In this debut collection, Hayslett’s characters, most of them black, brown, and/or queer, have their personal problems complicated by their outsider status, by ominous politics, and by occasional eruptions of madness and the macabre. In “2016,” a black lesbian copes with her sister’s troubled pregnancy, her father’s cancer diagnosis, and an increasingly crazy presidential campaign while a ghostly skull that only she can see gradually materializes over her face when she looks in the mirror. In “Money Men,” an Atlanta prostitute who passes the time watching cable news while servicing her clients becomes obsessed with the Arab Spring revolutions she sees on TV. In the Twilight Zone–ish “Super Rush,” a 35-year-old gay man begins an affair with a 19-year-old version of himself whom he encounters at a bathhouse; in “Denial Twist,” a gay man’s affair with a flamboyant drag queen is derailed by homophobic violence; and in “A Step Toward Evolution,” a Native American gay man who feels slighted by white gay men who use and discard him initiates a germ-warfare campaign. And in the disturbing “Come Clean,” two black children observe the bizarre changes in their mother after she is sexually assaulted by a white man and fear she is turning into a vampire. Hayslett paints this world in matter-of-fact realism that’s trimmed with deadpan humor and knocked only slightly off-kilter by incursions of the paranormal, conveying it all in brisk, evocative, grungily lyrical prose. “When your husband finally tells you he’s fucking Celia Washington, your ears fill with room-tone…it’s the first time in six months he’s not grinning like a two-dollar-idiot, and your vision crisps so sharp you can see every scraggly outline of lint on his jacket, and his breath feels like ten thousand wet pellets splashing your face as he says I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry,” growls the narrator of “Hope It Felt Good” as a wronged wife begins a bizarre metamorphosis. The author keeps the identity politics pervasive yet unobtrusive as his characters fight a twilight struggle against a world bent on erasing their realities.

A gripping collection of yarns in which social disadvantages take on monstrous shapes.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947041-22-6

Page Count: 102

Publisher: Running Wild Press

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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