As in her novels, many of the stories in King’s first collection of short fiction, “Five Tuesdays in the Winter,” are preceded by loss and ignited by desire—the pursuit of which often depends on its articulation, ability to find’. for everything that haunted you,” as the protagonist of the title story, a reluctant seller of used books, puts it. He is surrounded by evidence of the power of language in the form of the torn classics that fill his shop, but after his wife’s departure he struggles to express his affection for his daughter, not to mention his growing passion for his shop assistant. King supplies the words for him with the kind of inner monologue we can identify with: After a date with the wrong woman, he feels “abstract and incoherent, and it occurred to him that the sensation was just a small magnification of the feeling.” that he always felt.”
Parents in King’s early fiction were often both larger-than-life and unavailable—alcoholic, narcissistic, or otherwise absent. It’s also a theme in these stories, though the luminaries tend to paint generations of deadlocks with a finer, softer brush. The moment of connection between the bookseller and his daughter, when the time comes, is suitably awkward and tender, and one neither will forget.
In ‘The North Sea’, a German woman, abruptly widowed and left in financial difficulties, takes her teenage daughter on a seaside vacation, hoping to break the grief that has silenced them. “Adults hid their pain, their fears, their failures,” the widow recalls, after treating her daughter to a riding lesson she cannot afford, “but adolescents hid their happiness, as if they would risk the loss if they reveal that it would be lost.” The ending, in which the daughter babysits for an annoyingly happy Australian family staying at the same inn, is as twisted as it is pleasing.
It says a lot about King’s dexterity with tone that a father’s breakdown and suicide attempt is the backdrop to the collection’s most amusing story, “When in the Dordogne,” in which an adolescent is left in the care of a few rambunctious students who teach him being how to enjoy life – and how to talk to the girl he’s in love with.
King’s acuity with everything bubbling inside us often reminds me of Tessa Hadley or Joan Silber, authors who eschew ironic distance from frank closeness, whose feminism is implicit, who could write the contents of the human heart on a pin. In the final story, “The Man at the Door,” a writer’s doubts about her own talents surface after the birth of her son in the form of a man who demands a gin martini and begins to destroy her self-confidence. . “I’ve never understood why someone who isn’t a genius gets involved in art,” he tells her.