Literary fiction old and new from one of the contemporary masters of the form.

Much of this collection has been selected from previous works, including stories from The Knife Thrower (1998) and The Barnum Museum (1990). Settings range from the contemporary to the indefinite to the historic. “A Protest Against the Sun” is modern enough to feature a character in Goth-like dress and a teenage protagonist so introspective and sophisticated as to seem coequal to her parents. Conversely, “Eisenheim the Illusionist” is set “when the Empire of the Hapsburgs was nearing the end of its long dissolution.” Millhauser’s latest work opens the book. In the first new story, “The Slap,” readers enter a bucolic suburban community where a nameless man has begun to slap people at random. Clad in a bland trench coat, the man may be striking out against self-absorption and self-satisfaction, or he simply may be unstable. He slaps. And then he stops. Readers are left to dream why. The second new story is “The White Glove”: Emily and Will, teenage partners in a deep platonic but not yet romantic relationship, are confronted by an odd disease that ends with Emily covering her hand with a white glove. Like much of Millhauser’s work, "The White Glove" touches upon the surrealistic and resonates with metaphors and allegories. A shorter piece is “Getting Closer,” six pages of exposition delving into a youngster’s reluctance to end the sweet anticipation of summer’s beginning. “The Invasion from Outer Space” offers near science fiction without robots and dying planets. “People of the Book” is a religious allegory complete with a virgin birth. Meanwhile, “The Next Thing” imagines a faceless corporation that builds a giant underground warehouse store—alluring and mysterious, a bizarre Sam’s Club submerged—only to take over the town above for its own executives.

Literary language, more introspection than action, much exposition, intelligent speculation about the human condition, all woven through sophisticated storytelling.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-59590-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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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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