Not as ambitious as The Lazarus Project, but no work by Hemon is a minor effort.

READ REVIEW

LOVE AND OBSTACLES

STORIES

A master of modern literary gamesmanship returns with a short-story collection that just might be a novel, with elements that closely parallel the author’s career.

National Book Award–nominated author Hemon (The Lazarus Project, 2008, etc.), a Bosnian now based in Chicago who has had several stories published in the New Yorker, offers a series of interconnected, first-person narratives about a Bosnian writer who moves to Chicago and has a story called “Love and Obstacles” published in the New Yorker. Yet the author has something more profound than guessing games and literary puzzles in mind. These eight stories, chronologically sequenced, follow the unnamed narrator from his formative years as an aspiring boy poet (he quotes some lines from a poem titled, naturally, “Love and Obstacles”) through his relocation to Chicago just before the siege of Sarajevo and on to his achievement of some literary accomplishment. The protagonist testifies to the inspiration of Conrad and Rimbaud (he calls The Drunken Boat “my bible”), making more contemporary references to Led Zeppelin and Sonic Youth as well. Throughout, he deals with the challenges of art, the essence of identity and the “merciless passing of time.” He contrasts the loftiness of literature with his experiences as a door-to-door magazine salesman: His blue-collar customers “did not waste their time contemplating the purpose of human life; their years were spent as a tale is told: slowly, steadily, approaching the inexorable end.” Though each is self-contained, the stories benefit from echoes and resonances, recurring themes and characters (particularly the narrator’s parents). Complicated relationships with other artists—an established poet, a documentary filmmaker, a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist—underscore the twists of truth and fiction, the slippery slopes of memory and identity.

Not as ambitious as The Lazarus Project, but no work by Hemon is a minor effort.

Pub Date: May 14, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59448-864-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more