A clever but uneven story collection that reads a bit like a present-day Replacements concert: you never know from page to...

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WELCOME THIEVES

STORIES

Sad sacks, troubadours, and other beautiful losers populate this debut collection of short stories by YA novelist Beaudoin (Wise Young Fool, 2013, etc.).

About half the tales in Beaudoin’s quiver have some real grit, like Springsteen or Bob Seger songs written about the travails of Gen X–ers back in the golden days of flannel. That vibe is better than it sounds but it’s too often derailed by postmodern sarcasm and juvenile wit. The first two stories are pretty typical Midwestern Americana. In “Nick in Nine (9) Movements,” we follow a guy who thinks he’s going to grow up to be Slash (and doesn’t). In “The Rescues,” we pretty much meet the same Everyman, here finding his humanity in helping people fix their beater cars. Things take a darker turn in “Hey Monkey Chow,” mostly about a guy who has a near-miss sexual encounter with his adopted sister. “It’s weird how almost everyone does the worst thing, every time,” Beaudoin writes. “Gives in to their essential natures without thought or complaint. Our little brains suckered in by the first shiny thing. And then, when we have a chance not to be, a real and obvious chance to prove we’re actually half-human, still fuck it up.” In these and other tales, there’s also a perplexing and persistent immaturity that probably works well in the author’s novels but less so here. Only in “You Too Can Graduate in Three Years with a Degree in Contextual Semiotics” do we see a real portrayal of adulthood, and it ultimately finds its protagonist pining for the one that got away. Just to show he still has some tricks up his sleeve, Beaudoin slips in a mickey with “Base Omega Has Twelve Dictates,” a really funny satire of teen dystopian fiction.

A clever but uneven story collection that reads a bit like a present-day Replacements concert: you never know from page to page if you’re going to get the melancholy poet or the drunken joker.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61620-457-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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