THE BURNING HOUSE

"I have had this revelation: that you can look at something, close your eyes and see it again and still know nothing—like staring at the sky to figure out the distance between stars." Here once more, then, in another collection of striking stories, are the befuddled people of Beattie's aging Frisbee generation; now in their thirties, adept at games, they know "how to talk about things" and see life vividly—but they're powerless to order, predict, or figure out the real distances between lives and events in their random colloidal dance. In "Learning to Fall," a woman heads for a marital break-up, drifts toward a lover, knowing what a prophesying friend has known all along: "what will happen cannot be stopped. Aim for grace." Other marriages end with the sudden breaking of glass—a favorite Beattie image. Relationships wind down, each cycle wobbling abrasively, closer to the bone. (In "Playback," the friendship of two women circles again through envy and jealousy—bringing death to a love, to an unborn child.) Beattie's apprehensive children "seem older now": in "The Cinderella Waltz," a resentful and unhappy eight-year-old awaits her glass slippers from Daddy, the slippery prince . . . as his ex-wife and male lover exchange confidences, chatting, "pretending to be adults." And, throughout, Beattie's people (upper-middle, educated, drug/Sixties graduates) are curiously bifurcated, painfully grounded but vividly aware of unreadable phenomena—as the women, perhaps more earthbound, begin to fall away from the lure of grand visionary possibilities. (Husband to wife in the title story: "You know what we all feel inside that you don't feel? That we're all going to the stars . . . I'm already gone.") Once again: brilliantly crafted stories about yesterday's children living without context, naked to pain, knowing that home fires can lead to a burning when you "play house.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 1982

ISBN: 067976500X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982

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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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