In dark times, we get entertainment that reflects the world we’ve made. Welcome home.

UNIVERSAL LOVE

Eleven new stories about our potentially weird future.

Weinstein (Children of the New World, 2016) made a big splash in SF with his debut collection and follows it up with nearly a dozen stories that are just as creepy and will fit right in if you’re watching Black Mirror. The opener, “The Year of Nostalgia,” comes especially close to that particular flavor; it concerns a family trying to deal with grief by interacting with their hologram relatives. In “Beijing,” we find people living in the last days of the climate crisis erasing unpleasant memories of the things that hurt them most. “Comfort Porn” takes the concept of Tinder and similar apps to an unpleasant destination. Really, it’s all a prescient warning about technology, not that we really need a warning at this point. In “We Only Wanted Their Happiness,” indulgent parents give their kids access to information that turns them into little monsters. “True Love Testimonials” is, yes, a little weird, with its post-Tinder confessions about how to hook up with, say, a guy you can make look like your ex, or hosting “morphing orgies.” Things get stranger. In “Childhood,” the kids...malfunction, and we’ll leave it at that. Inevitably, in “Sanctuary,” we discover aliens, but in the most unusual and dangerous place imaginable. Time travel? Sure, why not? In “Infinite Realities,” we meet someone trying to find the version where they get it right, for once. We’re running out of time, so to speak, but there’s something to say about abandonment in “Mountain Song” and, finally, another dry look at the end times in “Islanders.”

In dark times, we get entertainment that reflects the world we’ve made. Welcome home.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-14435-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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