A PERFECT SILENCE

This bleak debut features violence and abuse so unrelenting that they quickly become routine. Blanca is in the hospital after a suicide attempt. Sections telling of her adulthood and attempts by the hospital staff to help her are interspersed with the sad story of her early life, beginning with her journey from Puerto Rico to New York City as a child. Benevolent adults are as believable as Santa Claus in Blanca's world. Her grandmother Paquita beats her often. Her father sexually molests her and threatens to kill her if she tells anyone. When she and Paquita return to Puerto Rico quite suddenly, Blanca first has some trouble readjusting, although she is once again thrust into a familiarly abusive environment. A bookworm, Blanca incurs the uneducated Paquita's wrath. In Puerto Rico she undergoes an illegal abortion and, at 17, begins an affair with a married man whose wife confronts her—not to challenge her but to say that should she decide to prosecute her lover for statutory rape, she would testify, since she too was 17 when she took up with him. Eventually they wed, and Blanca has a daughter. She divorces him after four years, when—in a dose of unexpected magical realism—an acacia instructs her to do so. Blanca is not a quick learner, though, and she falls in love with her boss at the Department of Justice, another married man. After graduating from college, she and her daughter, Ta°na, head to Boston, where Blanca will study at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. Ta°na experiences her mother's linguistic confusion in reverse, Blanca feels confused and lost, and pretty soon she decides to commit suicide—no surprise, since the book ends back where it started. Aside from the sparse hospital scenes, which stand out because they are more tangibly detailed, this suffers from an overheated style and adds little to the literary exploration of displacement. Multiculturalism cannot disguise a lack of originality.

Pub Date: March 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-55885-125-9

Page Count: 199

Publisher: Arte Público

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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