An uneven collection, but King has plainly had a ball writing these stories.

JUST AFTER SUNSET

STORIES

King (Duma Key, 2008, etc.) returns with his first volume of short stories in six years.

The author explains in his introduction that the opportunity to edit the annual Best American Short Stories anthology reignited his interest in the form, which had supported him when the fledgling novelist submitted stories to men’s magazines. His afterword provides contextual comment on each of the 13 selections, including the revelation that “The Cat from Hell”—about a killer feline and the hit man hired to bump it off—dates back 30 years to those pulp-fiction days. Yet most of the rest are recent, allowing King to exorcise demons (the fear of being trapped in a porta-potty in “A Very Tight Space,” the ambivalence about interfering in a violent domestic quarrel in “Rest Stop”) and dreams (the marital entropy of “Harvey’s Dream,” the mushroom cloud of “Graduation Afternoon”). Though much of this lacks the literary ambition of King’s recent novels, “Stationary Bike” provides a compelling portrait of creative psychosis—how a metaphor suggested by a doctor to describe an artist’s high cholesterol inspires a painting that becomes the artist’s reality—while the contagious obsessive compulsive disorder in “N.” ranks with King’s best work (it is also the newest story here). There’s also an obligatory 9/11 response (“The Things They Left Behind”) and a story that blurs the distinction between the living and the dead (the opening “Willa”). Like episodes from The Twilight Zone, many of the stories hinge upon “a small but noticeable hole in the column of reality.” As King writes, “[I]t’s how we see the world that keeps the darkness beyond the world at bay.” And he tells the reader, “I hope at least one of [the stories] keeps you awake for awhile after the lights are out.”

An uneven collection, but King has plainly had a ball writing these stories.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-8408-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2008

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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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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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