This book within a book eloquently memorializes our common past and the manner in which it formed us and continues to shape...

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CARRIED AWAY

A SELECTION OF STORIES

The opening story of Alice Munro’s rich new collection, The View from Castle Rock, glancingly refers to the talent of her ancestor, Scottish author James Hogg, for “embroidering” factual histories:  i.e., he was known to practice “some canny lying of the sort you can depend upon a writer to do.”  Munro’s own homespun genius for transforming received material into imaginative projections of how we’ve lived (and might have lived) has produced ten lavishly praised collections and an early novel-in-stories, and earned her a reputation as both the best short story writer on our continent and her country’s probable first Nobel laureate.

            In addition to The View from Castle Rock, which speculates (or, if you will, “lies”) about the lives of Munro’s Scottish ancestors as prelude to a compact fictional semi-autobiography, Munro’s matchless work is represented this fall by Carried Away, a gathering of 17 previously published stories.  The tales in Carried Away display a broad range of subject matter, emotional experience and rhetorical effects, though the settings only rarely stray beyond Munro’s native rural Ontario.             Among the best:  unsparing portrayals of the combative relationship between young protagonist Rose and her impulsive mother Flo (“Royal Beatings,” “The Beggar Maid”); a crisply imagined mystery about a country wife who may have murdered her abusive husband (“A Wilderness Station”); the intricate account of a vulnerable nursing home patient protected and exploited by her frustrated husband (“The Bear Came Over the Mountain”); and the great title story, in which a timid librarian’s life from youth through marriage and middle age is dominated by fantasies of the young soldier who possessed her imagination through all the years when they never met.             The View from Castle Rock echoes these earlier works in its concluding half (“Home”), which presents an episodic biography of its unnamed narrator, from her Ontario girlhood through first intimations of romance (“Lying Under the Apple Tree”), maturity and marriage, the aging and deaths of loved ones and confirmation of her own mortality.  But the book’s great achievements are the five long stories that trace the harsh lives of her Scots ancestors (the Laidlaws) in a bleak land offering “No Advantages,” their emigration to North America, what and how they endured and what, so far as their descendant can piece together and imagine, became of them.

            This book within a book eloquently memorializes our common past and the manner in which it formed us and continues to shape our destinies.  Alice Munro has honored the world of her fathers and mothers in an echo of the promise made to the medieval Everyman:  “I will go with thee and be thy guide.”  In the last century, we have had no better guide than this indispensable author.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2006

ISBN: 0-307-26486-6

Page Count: 600

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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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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