This volume of interconnected stories, part of Coffee House's series by Asian-American writers, introduces a young Chinese immigrant. Working from a decidedly autobiographical base, Wang Ping presents horror stories of Maoist China from which most of the horror has been carefully removed. Wang uses the first-person voice of a young woman named Seaweed to tell of the depredations of the People's Revolution. Plastic surgeons are outlawed and forced to clean hospital bathrooms to atone for their sins; makeup and long flowing hair are forbidden; young children are left with grandparents in distant cities because there's no time to care for them at home; middle-class children who are graduated from high school are forced to spend two years working and living among peasants before they'll even be considered for the few college spots available; and peasant schoolgirls are sold into disastrous marriages. Finally fulfilling her dream of an education, Seaweed manages to attend graduate school in New York, get a green card, and find employment as a substitute teacher in Chinatown. Her day-to-day existence might be easier, but she's haunted by familial shadows (two sisters desperate for her to bring them to America, her father's death, her aunt and grandmother) and the untranslatable concept of chu jai—according to which, regardless of success, a Chinese woman does not have a ``home'' until she marries. The outer circumstances might change, but Seaweed's emotional tenor remains consistent: the caring young woman, refusing to be ashamed of her past, keeping a serene presence despite all odds. English might be the author's second language, but she has mastered a conversational tone that seems graceful and effortless—but, unfortunately, also one-dimensional. To fulfill the promise evident here, Wang will have to flesh out other characters and create multilayered tension. The only thing missing here is drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-56689-025-X

Page Count: 172

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1994

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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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