At their best, these flavorful pieces reside firmly in the tradition of great Southern storytelling.

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UKE RIVERS DELIVERS

STORIES

Fifteen stories rooted in Southern history, from a prizewinning poet.

Smith, editor of Shenandoah, has an ear for the Southern vernacular and a fondness for eccentric—if not grotesque—characters. All but one of the stories are monologues by the central figure, who is often a participant in some historical event. In “Trousseau,” one of Jefferson Davis's guards tells of the Confederate president's capture by the Union army, when Davis was reported to have been disguised as a woman. “Shooting Booth” is presented as a first-hand account by Boston Corbett, who killed Lincoln's cornered assassin. In “I Have Lost My Right,” the narrator meets a courier from Stonewall Jackson's command. Other stories look at history from a remove: “Docent” is narrated by “Miss Sibby,” who shows visitors Robert E. Lee's tomb on the grounds of Washington and Lee University, and the narrator of “Little Sorrel” reports visitations by Stonewall's ghost. Not all deal with the war. The title story is told by a midget ukulele virtuoso who discovers that his wife is unfaithful. And the opening story, “Jesus Wept,” is told by a farm boy whose father decides that God has spoken to him when lightning strikes their outhouse. Smith laces these stories with humor, often (as in “Docent”) at the expense of the heroic Southern tradition the narrators believe themselves to be upholding. The dialogue seems stilted at times, especially in the pieces with 19th-century settings, where it reflects the flamboyant rhetoric of that era. Still, combined with the author's fondness for sometimes arcane bits of lore—models of Martin ukuleles, or details of Jackson's campaigns—this tendency may limit readership. That would be a shame.

At their best, these flavorful pieces reside firmly in the tradition of great Southern storytelling.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-8071-3187-3

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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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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