The characters are more shallow than the hot tubs they inhabit.

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ADULTERIES, HOT TUBS & SUCH LIKE MATTERS

Short stories whose two main themes are announced in the title.

McCauley (Need: Stories from Africa, 2004, etc.) populates his affluent, quasi-Cheeveresque world with successful professional men and women who have too much time and not enough soul, and they could hardly screw up their lives more if they had personal assistants of chaos. They drive Volvos. They rail against their unsuccessful children. They suspect one another of infidelity, usually with ample reason. Marty grows marijuana in his basement. “It’s not a grow farm,” he insists, explaining his sticky situation to his lawyer, but the discovery of his 20-year tradition of supplying pot to family and friends leads to the threat of job loss and house foreclosure. Susan and George consummate an adulterous affair solely to get revenge on their own unfaithful spouses. Wilbert suspects Sandra of having an affair because every week she “sneaks off” to a Wednesday Bible study at a local church. We learn that Wilbert, with unconscious irony, “[accepts] the equality of men and women in all respects—except, of course, in abilities and roles.” Ben sends his wife Alice flowers and signs the card, “from a very ardent admirer,” and she’s disappointed to find out their prosaic source. A number of characters enjoy getting into grotesquely embarrassing conversations and cynically keep them going just to see what’s going to happen. While the stories are not exactly interlocked, and characters don’t, in Yoknapatawpha fashion, reappear from one story to another, the world they inhabit seems to be a common space. One recurrent setting is the “hot tub” of the title. Seemingly as an inside joke, McCauley inserts allusions to or scenes with hot tubs into almost every story. When Shree tells a sexually overheated Morgan, “God, I want to do a tub right now,” she unwittingly announces a major motif of the collection.

The characters are more shallow than the hot tubs they inhabit.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-57962-154-4

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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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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