BROKEN VESSELS

In his first volume of nonfiction, short-story writer Dubus (The Last Worthless Thing, 1986, etc.) reveals the passions, struggles, and strengths underlying his art, life, and arduous recovery from personal tragedy. Sparing few of life's messy details and contradictions, these 22 deeply personal essays, dating from 1977 to 1990 and strongly reminiscent of the author's fictional themes, offer an unflinching view of one man's search for truth. In ``Of Robin Hood and Womanhood,'' a childhood tendency toward ``angelic devotion to the female'' yields slowly to an effort ``to see women as they are...creatures like me.'' ``On Charon's Wharf'' connects the mysteries of the Eucharist—``without touch, God is a monologue...he must touch and be touched''—to the dissolution of a marriage once words suffocate action. Here are the joys of writing and the frustrations of publishing (in five essays that move from childhood storytelling to a tribute to writer Richard Yates); the search for social justice (``The Judge and Other Snakes''); the pleasures and responsibilities of fatherhood (throughout). Here also are moments of shimmering lyricism, as in ``Under the Lights,'' when a rare home-run ball hit by a Class C journeyman appears as ``a bright and vanishing sphere of human possibility, soaring into the darkness beyond our vision.'' The last third of the book, a wrenching chronicle of loss and reaffirmation, deals with the highway accident that cost Dubus the use of his legs, the subsequent breakup of his third marriage, and the ensuing battle for physical and spiritual peace. We are left with a view of life as an overlapping sequence of stories, answering a ``need to speak into the silence of mortality,'' informed by the quest for connection, the ``sacrament'' of ``shared ritual'' so ably served by this collection. A beautifully written, moving, and altogether wonderful book.

Pub Date: July 15, 1991

ISBN: 0-87923-885-2

Page Count: 155

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1991

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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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