Van Booy clearly believes there are surprising new ways to write about love. Here, he proves he’s right, occasionally.

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TALES OF ACCIDENTAL GENIUS

STORIES

A tenderhearted clutch of stories and fables that highlights interconnectedness between everyone from fashionistas to peasantry, ranging from Brooklyn to London to Beijing.

Van Booy is an unrepentant softie: two of his prior story collections highlight the word “love” in their titles (The Secret Lives of People in Love, 2007; Love Begins in Winter, 2009), and sentimentality runs deep here, too. Indeed, it sometimes overflows. “The Goldfish” is a treacly tale about a man seeking medical help for a dead fish he’s persuaded himself is only ailing and another man’s small act of kindness that spares him sorrow; in “A Slow and Deliberate Disappearance,” a magician visits a retirement home, where a pair of stories he hears about eroding memories fuses in a predictable and old-fashioned manner. Van Booy displayed a similar romanticism in his 2013 novel, The Illusion of Separateness, but that book was redeemed by the depth of its characters. So it’s not surprising that the shorter sketches that open this collection are improved upon by the prose poem/novella that closes it: in “Golden Helper II,” a boy in Beijing named Weng watches his father labor over a mechanical device he’s invented to add speed to the tricycle he uses to make vegetable deliveries; when it proves to be a kind of perpetual motion machine that makes Weng fabulously rich, he’s forced to consider how he can use his newfound wealth to help others and deal with his heartache over the married woman he’s fallen for. The story is formatted like a poem, though it generally reads like prose, and the careful, softened language (“his heart like a kite on currents of breath”) and elemental plot support its billing as a satisfying fable.

Van Booy clearly believes there are surprising new ways to write about love. Here, he proves he’s right, occasionally.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-240897-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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