Unfortunately, the longest piece here—the novella-length "What Kind of Day Did You Have?"—is the least...



Family fiction and the fiction-of-ideas: these are the two competing concerns in Bellow's recent work—with the combination at its most problematic in his last novel, The Dean's December.

Here, however, in five shorter works from the past decade, those seemingly contradictory roles—the darkly comic memoirist, the thorny essayist—are on more rewarding display, occasionally even blending in a richly charming way. One story, "A Silver Dish," already much-anthologized and much-acclaimed, is the memoirist/family side of Bellow, virtually undiluted: a 60-year-old South Chicago businessman reacts exuberantly to the death of his old father—in a memory-montage that showcases Bellow's boisterous, visceral, ironic warmth. ("How, against a contemporary background, do you mourn an octogenarian father, nearly blind, his heart enlarged, his lungs filling with fluid, who creeps, stumbles, gives off the odors, the moldiness or gassiness, of old men. I mean !") But, in other pieces, chunks of zesty family/friend reminiscence and personal psychology are shaded with cultural musings or implications. The brief, fragmentary "Zetland: By a Character Witness" recalls the early life (1920s, 1930s) of a Chicago intellectual/bohemian, rebelling against his old-fashioned Jewish family; the subtext is a gently mordant view of all intellectual idealism. In "Cousins," the narrator is a law-expert/celebrity (creator of TV's Court of Law) who uses his influence to get a light sentence for his gangster-cousin Tanky; here, the inability to "extricate myself from the ties of Jewish cousinhood" leads to memories of other cousins (including one philosopher), to anthropological puzzles, to the conflict (within a family or within a single personality) between the "brainy" and the gutsy. And most effective of all in the weaving of earthy tale-spinning with meditation is the title story: narrator Harry, a 65-ish musicologist who's hiding out (from big legal troubles) in Vancouver, is writing an apology to the long-ago victim of one of his many cruel wisecracks; he recounts the Balzac-like money/family mistakes which got him into his present mess; and, without strain or contrivance, this confession/self-analysis winds through such oddly relevant matters as Allen Ginsberg, the breeding of pit bulldogs, music vs. materialism, and Jewish assimilationism.

Unfortunately, the longest piece here—the novella-length "What Kind of Day Did You Have?"—is the least successful: the affair between a youngish divorcee and a famous old art critic becomes an uneasy frame for wrestlings with Marxism, celebrity, and intellectual hucksterism. But much of this welcome gathering presents the restless Bellow voice in full cry—taut, colorful, Talmudic, and large-hearted.?

Pub Date: May 30, 1984

ISBN: 0141180234

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1984

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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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