THE BLUE DEVILS OF NADA

A CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN APPROACH TO AESTHETIC STATEMENT

For those unlucky readers who've missed such singularly American books as The Omni-Americans (1970) and Stomping the Blues (1976), Murray has collected his most recent essays from largely obscure sources and assembled another world-beating prose obbligato—necessary for the times by virtue of its transcendent aesthetics. The second half of Murray's one-two punch (see p. 1590 for a review of his new novel, The Seven League Boots), these essays extend and restate his abiding belief that art at its best is ``fundamentally existential,'' and that ``stomping the blues'' means nothing less than fearlessly facing chaos and entropy. To make art out of raw experience, as Murray further asserts, requires skill and style. Murray also relies on Kenneth Burke's notion of the ``representative anecdote'' as the storyteller's main concern. For him, as he demonstrates in a breathtaking series of essays on Armstrong, Ellington, and Basie, that fundamental myth is ``the fully orchestrated blues statement,'' never to be confused with the blues as such (i.e., feeling overwhelmed by the devils of negativity). Ellington's autobiography, in Murray's opinion, is so inviting because it's true to his personality and imposes no extra- artistic agenda on the story. Which is also what Murray tried to do when he ``accompanied'' Basie on his autobiographical Good Morning Blues, an experience he describes in ``Comping for Count Basie.'' Pops Armstrong, in turn, is the great culture hero, a ``herald of the age'' who transforms the effluvia of pop culture into fine art. And never say to Murray that his resilient art gods aren't fine artists, for he drives home the analogies with Picasso, Matisse, et al. over and over again. And if you wonder about the title of this collection, Murray's essay on Hemingway explains that bluesman's struggle with the void. Stringent in aesthetic matters, the magnanimous Murray has no time for the ``fakelore of black pathology.'' But he's totally on time when it comes to great art, and in a critical idiom that's his all alone.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-44213-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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