THE GOOD NEGRESS

In a knife-edged, poignant debut, Brooklyn-based Verdelle cuts to the heart and innermost thoughts of a black girl—a girl coming of age in 1960's Detroit—who struggles against racial limits and family entrapments to develop a mind yearning for fulfillment. When Denise's mother, Margarete, freshly widowed, leaves Denise with her grandmother in rural Virginia, the little girl is heartbroken. But she adapts quickly to country ways so that when she's summoned home to Detroit several years later to help her now- pregnant mother, her near-grown older brothers, and their new stepfather, she hates to go. A short, though warm, homecoming ushers in fresh realities: Denise's superior cooking and cleaning skills clinch for her the position of family housekeeper, while her down-home speech greatly impedes her progress at school. Taken under the wing of a new and exacting teacher, Miss Gloria Pearson, Denise begins to shine as a student and to dream of a better life; but in the face of mounting chores on the arrival of Margarete's baby, along with a tense situation at home as stepfather-son relations deteriorate, Denise has to make a Hobson's choice between future and family. She finds the will to juggle her responsibilities—a triumph of determination and dignity, but one with a terrible cost as she is unable to keep her favorite, ne'er- do-well brother, Luke Edward, from harm's way. Concerned after having watched him humiliated by their grandmother for shoplifting, and later driven from home for his attitude, Denise tries to protect him when his next theft is discovered, but her warning falls on deaf ears. Both the vitality and perils of life in divided families—as well as the larger conflict between a woman's duty and desire- -receive deft, honest handling here, revealing a vibrant new voice in our midst. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-56512-085-X

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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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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