HOW THE DEAD LIVE

A ponderous collection by a Minnesota author (Going Nowhere, 1971, etc.) who seems to have mastered Poe’s voice without plumbing his depth. There appears to be a revival of interest in Gothic fiction these days, and not all of the blame can be laid at Anne Rice’s window lattice: New Age psychology, rock music, and a simple weariness with the vacuity of most literary fiction have all added fuel to the fire. While Greenburg is not Gothic (and certainly not “Goth”) in the strict sense of the word, he does seem to have an obsession of sorts with death. The title story, “How the Dead Live,” is a good example: its portrayal of a man’s encounter with a mugger turns into a classic memento mori when both thief and victim realize they—re dead: “Don’t mess with me, buddy. Never mess with a dead man. Dead men don’t have anything to lose.— Feidelman, the man in question, is dead because he hasn’t “anything to live for,” and this sense of despair is a common theme running through most of Greenburg’s 15 stories. “Gruber in Traffic,” for example, describes the midlife crisis of a 43-year-old Minnesota lawyer who becomes obsessed with his own death after seeing a vision of his rabbi staring at him in the midst of a traffic jam. “A Couple of Dead Men” describes the relations of two brothers who attempt to come together after one is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Spivak, the hero of “Immersion,” drives himself to the emergency room after getting hit by a UPS truck, and Elaine (“Crimes Against Humanity”) displays her increasingly suicidal desperation by obsessively asking people, “How much evil can a person do in a lifetime?” All in all, a morbid lot. Restrained prose and capable dialogue carry these pieces a fair distance, but the portentousness becomes too much after a while. Eventually, the stories seem as dead as their characters.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-55597-281-0

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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