A whimsical story collection from a gifted writer with a keen eye and a playful sense of humor.

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THE LONESOME BODYBUILDER

Eleven esoteric stories from prizewinning Japanese writer Motoya.

Playwright-turned-novelist Motoya has been steadily making her presence felt in the English-language market in literary magazines like Granta. Here she offers a deft combination of magic realism and contemporary irony, dosed with some surreal humor. The opener, “The Lonesome Bodybuilder,” is something of an outlier as a Carver-esque study on the inner life of a largely invisible wife who yearns to become the titular bodybuilder. “Fighters are so beautiful,” she writes. “Incredible bodies, both of them. Taut bone and flesh, nothing wasted.” But then things go slightly askew in “Why I Can No Longer Look at a Picnic Blanket Without Laughing,” about a boutique clerk and a customer who refuses to leave the changing room, and “Typhoon,” about a surreal encounter with an old man at a bus shelter who knows the secrets of flight. Imagination runs away with an advertising executive in the supershort and creepy “I Called You by Name.” The book is centered by a nearly novella-length story, “An Exotic Marriage,” a Kafkaesque depiction that shows how even those closest to us can wind up completely alien in the end, a disturbing sentiment that is also reflected in the final story, “The Straw Husband.” There is a bit of twisted, violent dystopia in “Paprika Jiro” and anime-flavored ultraviolence in “How to Burden the Girl,” while “The Women” takes on notes of Quentin Tarantino in showing how love is strange. Finally, Motoya offers an arch satire on “agony aunts” in “Q&A” and produces spare, dark prose in the collection’s finest story, “The Dogs,” a pitch-dark meditation on isolation and alienation set in a remote wilderness.

A whimsical story collection from a gifted writer with a keen eye and a playful sense of humor.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59376-678-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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