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2009 Stories 215 - 223

Five more from Mr. King on the audiobook collection The House on Maple Street and other stories;  four more from The New Yorker in print form.

215. The House on Maple Street by Stephen King, read by Tabitha King.  King writes kids well -- when it comes to child protagonists, I like the way King handles them as much as I like the way Orson Scott Card and Neil Gaiman handle them.  This story starts out a bit reminiscent of the Narnia books -- four siblings, two boys and two girls alternating in age -- discover something unexpected and odd in an upstairs corner of their house.  It veers directly away from Narnia within the opening moments, though.  What I like is that the kids act, rather than being acted upon -- and you can completely understand why they do what they do.  Tabitha King's voice suits the story -- her Maine accent is a bit thicker than her husband's, and there's a sibilance to her pronunciation that just seems to work.

216. Umley's Last Case by Stephen King, read by Robert B. Parker.  This might now be one of my favorite King stories.  I've never read or heard it before, but I already want to listen to it again and get my hands on the Nightmares & Dreamscapes collection so I can read it ... although I suspect I will be hearing Robert B. Parker's voice in my head because as an author of hard-boiled noirish detective fiction  himself he nails Clive Umley's voice.  The story is about a fictional WW2-era private eye who slowly discovers his world unraveling in a literal fashion as he gets to meet his maker.  The pacing is inspired, and although you see what's coming ... it's how King gets you there that really works.  He doesn't rush it, and he doesn't play it tongue-in-cheek either.  It's an homage with a twist, and it works because King understands the Private Eye cliches and why they work.

217. Head Down by Stephen King, read by Stephen King.  This is actually a non-fiction piece King wrote for The New Yorker in 1990, about his son's little league team's journey to the Maine State Championships.  It is a great story despite being true -- King works the pacing and the emotion of each step of the story, plays with timing (flashbacks! flashforwards!) and narratorial voice (snarky asides included), but ultimately it's his love of baseball and pride in the  kids' accomplishments that shines through.  And through it all, his son is a relatively minor player, so it's not a case of a doting dad bragging about his kid.

218. Brooklyn Summer by Stephen King, read by Stephen J. Gould.  A very short love poem to the heydey of baseball.

219.  Quitters, Inc. by Stephen King, read by Eric Roberts.  Yeah, I know, I've read this story once already this year.  Or rather, listened to it.  It is one of my favorite King stories, from the Night Shift collection.  Earlier this year, I listened to John Glover's reading and was captivated.  I found this used cd of Roberts' reading and decided for $1 it was worth a listen.  Disappointing.  It reminded me of how the reader really affects the way you absorb a story.  Roberts' performance is too affected ... an overdone Eastern European accent for Donati, frequent lip-smacking between sentences apparently inspired by the one time in the story the character of Morrison actually does it.  All these little tics were just over the top to me.

220. Idols by Tim Gautreaux, from the June 22, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.  The main character in this story is thoroughly unlikeable, and yet the story worked for me.  I honestly wanted to know if he would come to his senses and realize he was no better than the people he was treating so badly, or if he would continue blithely on in his ways to an unfortunate end.  Of course, I'm not going to tell you the outcome!  It's been a while since I've read anything by Gautreaux, but this story reminded me why I enjoyed his other stories.

221. Distant Relations by Orhan Pamuk, from the September 7, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.  Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely.  The main character in this story is likeable, but from the first sentence you know he's headed a situation he's lost control of.  "The series of events and coincidences that would change my entire life began on April 27, 1975 ..." he starts.  The tone is slightly mannered and tinged with that "as I look back from later life" omniscience.  And yet the story still manages to feel immediate, even though you know how it's going to turn out.  What I liked was that there is still so much of the narrator's story untold -- we see the events in 1975 up to a point, but there is still a lot left implied rather than outright said.

222. Childcare by Lorrie Moore, from the July 6-13, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.  The narrator of this story is also looking back, but with a very different voice.  Where the narrator of Distant Relations was almost jaunty, the narrator of this story is wistful and perhaps just a bit stereotypically "emo."  She's wandering her college town looking for a job, hopefully babysitting.  I think I was more intrigued by the other main character, a 40s-ish woman about to adopt a child who has not been born yet, and with how (at least as I percieve it) both characters lie to themselves about what they really want.

223. The Lower River by Paul Theroux, from the September 14, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.  It's amazing how many iterations of the old "you can't go home again" chestnut there are, and yet the concept never really gets tired.  Perhaps this story works because Theroux reverses the concept a bit.  Altman, the main character, decides after retirement (and the dissolution of his marriage and ordinary distance of children who form their own families to raise) to return to the African village where he was a Peace Corps volunteer forty years earlier.  He'd been respected, needed, loved.  In that area now, he is something of a legend.  But can he live up to the legend, and can the village live up to his memory?  It's a strong story.


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