July 25, 2005 12:00 PM

by Owen King

CRITIC’S CHOICE

Dad issues dominate this exceptional debut, which includes a novella and four stories. Although King, who is Stephen’s son, employs touches of the macabre reminiscent of his father’s early work, his voice here is all his own. King’s title novella is the star. The story is told by George Claiborne, a teen whose grandfather’s obsession with Al Gore threatens to destroy his family. George’s mother and her beau, Dr. Vic, are trouble as well. “Every time [Dr. Vic] spoke, his wide doughy face opening up in a way that reminded me of the singing clams in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, I felt a little part of myself die from shame,” King writes. He explores similar problems of paternity in “Snake”; a Coney Island abortion in “Wonders”; even 19th-century dentistry in the tundra (“Frozen Animals”). Funny and poignant, these stories are textured gems.

NONFICTION

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