Sixteen stories in three groups (War, Armistice, Peace) but united by a common gift: the author's fine-tuned ability to craft astute observations of human nature. In his foreword to this second collection, Flynn (The Last Klick, not reviewed, etc.) says he hopes the reader will find ``the spirit of God in every story,'' but it seems more the spirit of man that colors the best of the pieces here, with their themes of the Vietnam War, Christianity, and the sometimes unclear distinctions between good and evil. Most manage to stay free of stereotype and clichÇ. In ``Land of the Free,'' a black father and his adolescent daughter remain dignified as they stand up to ignorance in a backwoods Texas town. The Hemingwayesque ``A Boy and His Dog''a young Marine in Vietnam loses confidence in his trained dog when the animal fails to detect a mine and allows another Marine to dieis a clear twist on the traditional version of man and man's best friend. ``At Play in the Sewers of the Lord'' is also a spin on the familiar: An inheritance, a sewage plant, becomes not a boon but an albatross. And ``Games Children Play,'' though it wraps up too neatly, highlights the complex relationship between children who think they need to parent an elderly mother and the still keen, resentful mother herself. The author's chief weakness is a liking for the obvious: ``Reluctant Truth'' is saved, barely, by its quirky grandfather, but the title story makes too overt an analogy between hyenas and men, while ``X-mas,'' about a modern-day birth of the baby Jesus, suffers from a lack of subtlety that's fortunately the exception more than the rule throughout. In most of the stories here, though, Flynn portrays quiet dignity, humanity, and a wisdom that comes from experience.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 1995

ISBN: 0-87565-144-5

Page Count: 232

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1995

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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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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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