A singular, if uneven, collection of tales with flashes of brilliance.

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YOU AND ME, BELONGING

A debut volume of short stories explores Canadian Jewish identity.

Seven stories are offered here, united by the themes of religion, love, and outsiders. The collection opens with “Restaurants,” an intriguing tale about Sarah, a Jewish waitress who embarks on an affair with Samir, a Palestinian co-worker. Kreuter cleverly considers the fling from the perspectives of both lovers and David, Sarah’s boyfriend. This is followed by “Amsterdam,” which tells of three young Canadian Jewish men who take a detour from their visit to Israel to have a blowout in Amsterdam before heading home. They smoke weed and visit the red-light district—a generic tale but for the fact they are tormented by the memory of Anne Frank. Other stories include the offbeat “Searching for Crude,” about a wealthy CEO who is mesmerized by a guitarist named Crude and becomes obsessed with matching his musicianship, and “Ninety-Nine,” about two close friends who are riven apart when one chooses to become “a traditional Jewish woman.” The volume ends with a longer, yet somewhat nondescript, tale about a group of girls following a band across America. The collection shows signs of a burgeoning talent but lacks consistency. In the opening of the book, Kreuter’s writing is a potent cocktail of racial tension and carnal desire: “That first time he came inside her and his whole body emptied out, his history and sorrows and worries purged for what felt like the first time.” By the close, his prose is noticeably diluted. “Chasing the Tonic” offers a watery contemporary regurgitation of 1960s hippiedom: “What did he believe in? The open road, music, the night sky, that, as he put it more than once, ‘Music and dancing and the redistribution of wealth can change the world.’ ” Kreuter’s narratives always deliver strong, concise messages. For example “Searching for Crude” attacks the rapacious nature of capitalist endeavors. But as a new writer, he tends to unnecessarily telegraph this lesson: “He didn’t want to be Crude. He wanted to consume him, to take his unrefined magic and keep it locked in a safe.” The author should trust his readership and the strength of his storylines rather than feel the need to hammer his points home. Still, Kreuter’s writing at its best has an addictive intensity that will leave most readers wanting more.

A singular, if uneven, collection of tales with flashes of brilliance.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-988040-41-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Tightrope Books, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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EXHALATION

Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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