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Tag Archives: short-stories

Caliban and Other Tales (2002): O Brave New World, That Has Such People In’t!

Robert Devereaux, Caliban and Other Tales (Leisure, 2002)

[originally published 13May2002]

Caliban, resentful, stares out from inside a bush on the first edition cover.

This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.
photo credit: horrornovelreviews.com

Robert Devereaux is one of the modern masters of the horror novel. Here, he turns his twisted eye to shorter fiction (well, for half the book), and we have to ask ourselves the question we have to ask with all novelists working in another genre: is he as good in medium B as he is in medium A? That’s a choice each reader has to make on his own, of course, but as far as I’m concerned, he may actually be better in medium B. “Ridi Bobo” is such a stroke of pure genius that, ten years from now, it may have entered the same space in my head reserved for such once-in-a-lifetime magnum opi as Richard Christian Matheson’s “Red” or Dan Simmons’ “Summer of Monsters.” Yeah, it’s THAT good. [ed. note 2014: twelve years later, it has indeed.] Who in the name of all that’s holy would think to cross a hardboiled detective story with a bunch of clowns? Bob Devereaux, that’s who. (And for those who always say the same things in response to such a comment, the point isn’t that you could have done it; the point is that you never thought to do it. Now go away.)

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Everything’s Eventual (2002): Including the Dark Tower Series Not Being Over

Stephen King, Everything’s Eventual (Scribner, 2002)

[originally posted 28Mar2002]

A drop of blood has dropped into a glass of water and is spreading on the cover of the book.

…including the decline of Stephen King’s career, but we’re still waiting on that one…
photo credit: Wikipedia

Rumors of Stephen King’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. 2002 is gearing up to be another highly productive year for King, and he starts us off with his first short story collection since 1993, Everything’s Eventual. It sure is nice to know that King doesn’t feel the need to turn everything into a novel, and while his short stories have gotten longer, they still pack the punch that the early tales did. However, they pack it in a more literary style. This is great stuff. It’s still recognizably King, but it’s New Yorker King rather than bargain-basement porn-mag King (check the prepub credits in Night Shift).

After reading the title story in this collection, I briefly fantasized about a world where the millions of people who reflexively buy King’s works who’ve never so much looked inside a literary magazine would bring away from this (and other such tales in this volume, notably “Luckey Quarter” and “Lunch at the Gotham Café”) an understanding of the complexities and ambiguities of the modern short story such that they could crack the binding on the new issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review, say, and not feel out of place. (From there, it’s one step to getting them to like poetry, and than I can take over the world at leisure.) I came to my senses a few minutes later, but there’s still something to be said for it. Up till now, King’s stories have always been well-defined pieces of work, with strong beginnings and endings and enough happening in the middle to keep people reading. No one would ever accuse, say, “Survivor Type” or “Grey Matter” of being an ambiguous piece of writing. But King was already showing his literary hand as far back as Skeleton Crew (with the haunting story “Nona”), and he tipped it last year with the brilliant “Blind Willie.” Now comes Everything’s Eventual, and he’s laid it on the table; this is the new King, the one I’ve been waiting for during the last couple of transitional releases. These stories are ambiguous, they require thinking (and sometimes leaps in logic) from the reader, and they’re simply better-written than his early work. King the literary author has finally caught up with King the storyteller.

As seems almost obligatory these days, yes, there’s a Dark Tower story. However, it doesn’t feel as invasive as most recent Dark Tower references, because it’s actually set in Mid-World (rather than showing up as a reference, as in “Low Men with Yellow Coats” or Bag of Bones). It’s also very much in the style of early King, despite actually being in a series, and thus begging for loose ends. Oddly, “The Little Sisters of Eluria” stands on its own more than any Dark Tower material since the first book. Go figure.

King’s back, and better than he’s been since The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I knew he’d get there sooner or later. ****

The Circus in the Attic (1947): Nothing Seems Real to Me

Robert Penn Warren, The Circus in the Attic (Dell, 1947)

[originally posted 7Mar2002]

The title, in garish colors, adorns the book cover.

“But dear, it clashes with the drapes!”
photo credit: Amazon

The back jacket of the book says, “These stories come from the pen of one of America’s half-dozen great writers.” Given the time period of the book’s release, that was really saying something. Something accurate, but something nonetheless. Penn Warren (who won the Pulitzer two year’s before for All the King’s Men) wrote the stories in this book over the course of fifteen years. Most were previously published.

The book is framed with two novellas, the title story and “Prime Leaf,” with a number of shorter works in between. As with most of Penn Warren’s work, the tales are about depression-era and WW2-era life in the American south, people going on about their day-to-day business. A number of the stories deal with the same town, and the same characters pass in and out of them, so the reader gets the feeling of getting to know different aspects of the town as he goes from story to story.

Part of the magic of Penn Warren’s work is the ability to simultaneously expose to the reader the quiet dignity of the proletariat and the basic stupidity of human nature. Not an easy thing to make the reader respect the people he’s laughing at. But that’s exactly what happens time and again in this book. The characters do dumb things for various reasons, but we always understand what those reasons are, and most of the time we can see how the character gets from the reason to the justification to the act without a problem. And while there’s always a moral to be had, Robert Penn Warren is certainly not Aesop. The moral is there, waiting to be found, but the reader who’s not interested in the morality of the tales is allowed to go off on his merry way and not contemplate the deeper meaning of what’s here. That, too, is part of Robert Penn Warren’s gift. *** ½

Special Offer (1981): But Wait, There’s More!

Jerry Bumpus, Special Offer (Carpenter Press, 1981)

A line drawing of a pickup truck adorns the book cover.

Go truck yourself.
photo credit: Google Books

My last experience with Carpenter Press was Robert Fox’s Destiny News, which landed solidly on the Worst I Read list for 2013 (at #12). So when I noticed that Jerry Bumpus’ Special Offer was published by the same press, I approached it with some trepidation. I still cracked the cover; it’s slim, it’s short stories, and had it been as bad as Destiny News, I would have thrown it to the wolves after the fifty-page rule. Special Offer, however, is, in a phrase, everything that Destiny News is not.

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Capsule Reviews (vault): July, 2014

Peter D. Hipson, What Every Visual C++ 2 Programmer Should Know (Sams, 1994)


[originally posted 19Feb2002]

A "just the facts, ma'am" cover with the red title on a green background.

Even more dated now than when I wrote this review.
photo credit: ebay

What Every Visual C++ 2 Programmer Should Know is the perfect compliment to Gurewich and Gurewich’s Master Visual C++ 2. Both put out by Sams in the same year. Coincidence? Probably not. Everything the Gurewich book lacks is covered here. The detail and amount of code examples is lacking in comparison, but given the topics covered, that’s an excusable oversight.

What Every Visual C++ 2 Programmer Should Know looks at the more advanced features of Microsoft’s primary development platform: programming with Unicode, OLE, ODBC, multithreading, etc. It’s more a reference book than a how-to manual, but the user who’s followed and mastered the Gurewichs’ book should already have enough coding under his belt to integrate the information presented here without much trouble. The two books, taken together, provide the best introduction to Visual C++ 2 on the market, and are highly recommended for those still programming in DOS/Win3.x/Win95. *** ½

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Fever (1989): A Little Hot Under the Collar

John Edgar Wideman, Fever (Henry Holt, 1989)

[originally posted 14Nov2001]

A new-primitive painting--of what, I have never been sure (to me it looks like a front lawn with a lounge chair on it) decorates the front cover.

Criminally, this book is now so out of print that I could only find two photos of the cover online. Neither is from a major online book distributor.
photo credit: bookdepository.com

Wideman may be the finest American writer no one’s ever heard of. Much of his early work has been allowed to run out of print and fade into obscurity; he remains a critical darling, popping up in The Best American Short Stories and editing black-literature anthologies, yet he’s never found a popular audience. Which is too bad, because Wideman’s got a lot to say.

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Learning to Swim and Other Stories (1982): Advanced Beginners

Graham Swift, Learning to Swim and Other Stories (Washington Square Press, 1982)

[originally posted 14Nov2001]

A toy ship sinks on the cover of the book.

I’m not gonna stand on the end of the pier.
photo credit: antiqbook.com

Graham Swift is something of a one-trick pony, actually, but the one trick he does he does exceptionally well. This is less obvious when you’re reading the man’s wonderful novels—Waterland, for instance, which someone will hopefully soon canonize as one of the classics of twentieth-century literature—but when you get digging into a story collection, you realize that Swift, or a close family member, was in the throes of the nasty ending of a relationship while he was writing these stories. His main characters, at least those of an age to do so, are almost always divorced men, and the tale of the leaving wife is either the main thread of the story or part of the circumstance leading up to the main part of the story. Swift just takes that tale and paints it with different hues.

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