Plenty here for Bausch fans to admire, but no startling breakthrough to attract a wider readership.

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SOMETHING IS OUT THERE

STORIES

In his latest collection, Bausch (Peace, 2008, etc.) occasionally allows his stylistic command to be undermined by symbolic heavy-handedness.

Character is key for this veteran author of novels and short fiction. His protagonists are neither good nor bad but, as one of the better stories here puts it, “honest in [a] self-deluding way.” That story is “Byron the Lyron,” about a man whose deepest love is for his sickly, strong-willed, 84-year-old mother Georgia, whose impending death is far more devastating to him than to her. Compounding the devastation is Byron’s breakup with his boyfriend, who continues to sustain a relationship with Georgia; not until Byron is free of both can he come into his own. Bausch offers no heroes or villains here, just lives that in their essence resemble the ancient buildings in Rome (where Byron has moved), “with their long history, their beauty and complication, their tragedy and triumph, their songs and their sorrow.” Two stories (“Son and Heir,” “Something Is Out There”) make use of a power outage to throw characters into thematic darkness; another (“One Hour in the History of Love”) employs a cafe table that proves impossible to steady as a metaphor for the couples sitting at it. In the title piece, a woman on the verge of upending her family’s life finds it instead upended by circumstances beyond her control, though she comes to see them as connected: “[T]his day’s badness was the beginning of something more, an unfolding.” Love is a predominant concern throughout this collection, which raises the metaphysical ante with the closing story, “Sixty-five Million Years,” in which a priest finds his spiritual torpor shaken by the doubts of a troubled, precocious young stranger.

Plenty here for Bausch fans to admire, but no startling breakthrough to attract a wider readership.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-26627-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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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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