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Tuesday, 06 March 2018 16:28

The art of war - ‘Bring Out the Dog’

From every war comes art inspired by that war. The pressures and pains of conflict have proven fertile ground for creators since the days of ancient Greece and Homer’s “Iliad.” There’s loads of room for disparate feelings and emotions - hurt, heart, humor, hubris and much more – in tales from the battlefield.

America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are no different; some remarkable art has sprung from those fallow fields. Music, movies, literature – all have found ways to reflect the people, places and ideas of our country’s lengthy hitch in the Middle East.

With his debut collection “Bring Out the Dog” (Random House, $27), Will Mackin has produced something that holds up alongside the very best war literature of the 21st century. These remarkable stories – 11 in all – are inspired by Mackin’s time deployed with a special ops task force in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They began life as notes jotted down on torn-off flaps of cardboard boxes or even on his own forearm. From there, these thoughts and observations made their way into Mackin’s journals. And those journals served as the foundational material to build this book.

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The best short fiction embraces the limitations of the form and turns them into foundational strengths. There’s a power in brevity that many writers can never fully harness, their work coming off as either overwritten or clumsily truncated.

But when someone displays a true mastery, literary brilliance often follows.

And so it is with “The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” (Random House, $27), a quintet of stories from the late Denis Johnson that explore the writer’s longstanding fascination with the freaks and fakes that exist on the fringes of society. Each one of these five tales can be held up as a masterpiece and a masterclass, powerfully evocative and poetically emotive even as the unsavory seediness and/or deliberate disconnect displayed by the characters bubbles and oozes to the surface.

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Elizabeth Strout’s latest an exceptional, engaging literary feat

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Short story collection finds the exquisite within the unpleasant

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Wednesday, 11 May 2016 14:03

Love and loneliness - 'The Pier Falls'

Collection features wide range of stylistic diversity

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Collection offers look at society's fringes and failures

Short fiction is relatively easy to write. Good short fiction, however, is quite difficult. Any writer can tell a story in a few thousand words. Telling a story that makes an impact and moves the reader in those same few thousand words is an art that many writers will never master.

Sam Lipsyte's newest book 'The Fun Parts' (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; $24) is that rare collection that carries that art forward into full bloom. It's a baker's dozen worth of postcards from the edge; each of the 13 stories is a glimpse at the people existing on the fringe. The characters populating Lipsyte's literary landscape aren't the sort that the reader is meant to love or even to like, to be truthful but they are brought to life with sharply-honed cleverness and furious glee.

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