Very uneven, then, but never less than readable and engaging. Adams’s many admirers will welcome this generous display of...

THE STORIES OF ALICE ADAMS

The unbridgeable distances between even perfectly compatible people, and the difficulty of sustaining meaningful relationships are the dominant themes of this retrospective collection of 53 stories by the late (1926–99) author (After the War, 2000, etc.).

The typical Adams character is a woman alone, approaching or entering middle age, alternately tormented or sustained by memories of things or people loved and lost. It sounds like a formula for women’s magazine fiction, and at her weakest (too often in the later of her five published collections), Adams comes across as a wittier, more stylish purveyor of otherwise conventional anatomies of suburban marriage, adultery, divorce, and lingering regret. But she’s often very much better than this—especially when family dynamics edge out self-absorption, as in “The Swastika on Our Door,” about a German-American woman’s observation of the strange symbiotic bonding of her small-minded husband and his moribund brother, and “Roses, Rhododendron” (arguably her finest piece), in which a Boston girl living in the South falls in love with a seemingly perfect, in fact dangerously unstable, family. Stories like these, which stretch her range, tend to disguise a bland style almost devoid of figurative language or other verbal originality. Read more than two or three of her stories at a time, and their similarities become glaring. Still, stunning little successes keep cropping up: the Dorothy Parker–like look at a former “Beautiful Girl,” still poised and confident despite creeping middle age and alcoholism; the rich characterization of a morose commuter repeatedly drawn to the wrong bus, and the seductive presences of its “Greyhound People”; the ambitious later stories “Related Histories” and “Truth or Consequences” and perhaps a dozen or so others.

Very uneven, then, but never less than readable and engaging. Adams’s many admirers will welcome this generous display of her work.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-41285-9

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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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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