OF BAD DREAMS
By Stephen King. (Scribner, 495 pages, $30.)
When Stephen King first got the urge to venture outside the horror genre, he was so worried about undermining his occult-oriented brand that he used the pseudonym Richard Bachman for things like the sci-fi tale “The Running Man” (which was made into an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie) and “The Long Walk,” a novella that still makes many critics’ lists of the best young-adult fiction.
He doesn’t have that problem anymore. His fans not only tolerate his forays into other modalities, but have come to savor them. And there is much to savor in this collection of short stories that, despite its horror-centric title — the marketing gods must be served, after all — also touches on a wide range of other genres, from drama to humor and even poetry.
Each entry is introduced by a brief foreword in which he tells the story behind the story: how and why he came to write it. About half of the offerings are new, while the rest are older stories that he has unearthed from his files, sometimes as is and other times with rewrites. He also has reconstituted a never-published story he wrote when he was 19, which was 49 years ago. He long ago lost the original, but — as with any first love — he remembers it vividly.
Assistant features editor
INNOCENCE, or, MURDER ON STEEP STREET
By Heda Margolius Kovaly; translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker. (Soho Press, 272 pages, $25.95.)
Prague native Heda Kovaly survived the Holocaust, only to see her husband, also a death camp survivor, executed by Czech Communist authorities in 1952 for “anti-state conspiracy.” A few years later, she married again and fled to the United States. Her memoir, “Under a Cruel Star,” is widely read, but “Innocence,” a darkly atmospheric mystery, has been largely hidden until this publication.
Its labyrinthine plot and complex characters reflect Kovaly’s love of Raymond Chandler’s fiction, which she translated into Czech. But the primary power of “Innocence” is its portrayal of life in gloomy, paranoid Prague in the 1950s, when people breathed fear and suspicion, often acting in self-protective ways that felt “innocent” to them. But when placed amid the web of actions by others, those actions often have deadly results.
“There’s no such thing as an innocent person,” says one investigator. “Get that through your head. You can’t see it till you look. But as soon as you do, everything about ’em, everything they do, is suspicious. That’s the way to look at it.” The book’s heroine, Helena, whose husband has been imprisoned on absurd charges, is caught in a murder investigation where everyone is a suspect, and even at book’s end, it’s not entirely clear who the killer was. Throughout her ordeal, Helena, clearly a fictional stand-in for Kovaly, tries to maintain her humanity, but it’s barely possible. “Innocence” is a sharp, moving indictment of Soviet-style communism, and of any ideology that relies on fear to subdue.
West/north metro editor