There's no overarching narrative here, certainly, and this may be more a cabinet of curiosities than a major work, but being...

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SIGNOR DIDO

STORIES

Savinio—composer, journalist, playwright, painter and younger brother of Giorgio de Chirico—died in 1952, and this, his final book, wasn't published in Italian until 1978. 

The book is a collection of 28 brief newspaper bagatelles that the author composed under deadline in the final years of his life (the last was turned in to his editor a mere four days before he died). But these short pieces often transcend those origins. Wry, epigrammatic, and with a mordant and playful wit he doesn't hesitate to turn on himself, these pieces exemplify Savinio's sense that the mundane and the fantastic aren't separate spheres but that each is shot through with the other. Through the (largely sedentary and intellectual) misadventures of his alter ego Signor Dido, Savinio provides a series of gently comic, softly sardonic meditations on family life, art, class and the ravages of age. The pieces are urbane, allusive (especially to classical mythology), graced occasionally with divine nonsense and absurdity. Savinio deftly balances introspection and journalistic observation, and always behind them are a fierce intelligence and an awareness of vanity in all its guises.

There's no overarching narrative here, certainly, and this may be more a cabinet of curiosities than a major work, but being in Savinio's company provides a series of small, persistent pleasures.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61902-238-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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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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