Engaging stories that highlight extraordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.

UNNATURAL HABITATS & OTHER STORIES

Debut author Mitchell offers a collection of seven Arkansas-based tales that explore the somber sides of marriage, familial relationships, and everyday life.

In the opening story, “Animal Lovers,” a woman named Dee insists on taking custody of the dogs, Ralph and Mickey, when she divorces her husband, Carter. But when the canines’ behavioral issues escalate, she thinks that she might be better off without them, after all. Mitchell’s book is filled with characters relentlessly finding flaws in themselves and others—including flaws that aren’t there. For example, Tonya in “Pyramid Schemes” is certain that her spouse, Randy, disapproves of her weight, although he’s given no indication of that. Likewise, in “Retreat,” Layton suspects that his co-worker Gary is one of the three baseball-bat–wielding assailants who beat him in a dark parking lot months before, though he has no proof of this. These imperfect characters are continually intriguing, as is the conflicted protagonist who robs a bank in “This Trailer is Free,” who’s unquestionably sympathetic. However, these stories aren’t entirely humorless. High schooler Libby, for instance, narrates “Not from Here” in a delightfully blunt voice; regarding Ronnie, a bus driver she befriends, she notes, “I think sometimes that he might make a good husband, but I’m not in love with him and I don’t expect I will be.” The author’s stark writing style examines details with an unflinching eye, much as the characters do, and the occasional moments of violence are haunting. The stories are linked not only by their common location, but also by recurring players, which allows for unexpected, additional character development. For instance, Dee returns in “Retreat,” which further delves into a relationship that was mentioned in her earlier tale.

Engaging stories that highlight extraordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9988014-6-9

Page Count: 190

Publisher: WTAW Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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