Strong if uneven: the emerging voice of a new talent to watch.

RED ANT HOUSE

STORIES

Twelve despairing stories set in a sun-bleached—and bleached-out—Southwest.

In the title piece, young Leigh’s friendship with the pathetic new kid on the block culminates when they expose themselves to the neighborhood pervert, but the story’s real power derives from claustrophobic working-class world Leigh resides in. In “Trapeze,” a slightly older girl, Karen—like Leigh, Catholic and from a big family—is tormented by her gymnastics partner. Karen survives, even prospers, but also hardens in a heartbreaking way. Willa, another tragic survivor, wins a Pyrrhic victory of wills and love against her widower father in “The Shiprock Fair.” Unlike most of the tales, “Blue Fly” is set at the turn of the last century and has a boy at its center, orphan Madison Evers, whose poignant longing for love focuses on his brother’s wife. As the protagonists grow up, the stories become bleaker, many mere snapshots of hopelessness. So the pieceworker of “Where I Work” and the young girl about to go off with a stranger in “Dr. War is a Voice on the Phone” are victims without a chance. “Crazy Yellow” returns to the world of children, but eight-year-old Pete, who lies to his sick mother and ends up alone in the house with yet another of Cummins’s ominous strangers, lacks the survival instincts of Karen or Willa. The richest stories reach beyond victimhood into more complex emotional territory. In “Headhunter,” a young woman on her way to visit her idolized father ends up in a fatal confrontation with another motorist and walks away thinking more about her father than the dead man. In “Bitterwater,” the self-awareness of the narrator’s Navaho husband, who abandons her and ends up in a detox center, is an oddly reassuring surprise. The other piece about marriage, “Starburst,” plumbs the twisted loyalties and understandings between spouses as a policeman who suspects his wife of theft finds himself aroused by her recklessness.

Strong if uneven: the emerging voice of a new talent to watch.

Pub Date: April 7, 2003

ISBN: 0-618-26925-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

THE HIDDEN GIRL AND OTHER STORIES

Science fiction author (The Wall of Storms, 2016) and translator (The Redemption of Time, Baoshu, 2019) Liu’s short stories explore the nature of identity, consciousness, and autonomy in hostile and chaotic worlds.

Liu deftly and compassionately draws connections between a genetically altered girl struggling to reconcile her human and alien sides and 20th-century Chinese young men who admire aspects of Western culture even as they confront its xenophobia (“Ghost Days”). A poor salvager on a distant planet learns to channel a revolutionary spirit through her alter ego of a rabbit (“Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard”). In “Byzantine Empathy,” a passionate hacktivist attempts to upend charitable giving through blockchain and VR technology even as her college roommate, an executive at a major nonprofit, fights to co-opt the process, a struggle which asks the question of whether pure empathy is possible—or even desired—in our complex geopolitical structure. Much of the collection is taken up by a series of overlapping and somewhat repetitive stories about the singularity, in which human minds are scanned and uploaded to servers, establishing an immortal existence in virtuality, a concept which many previous SF authors have already explored exhaustively. (Liu also never explains how an Earth that is rapidly becoming depleted of vital resources somehow manages to indefinitely power servers capable of supporting 300 billion digital lives.) However, one of those stories exhibits undoubted poignance in its depiction of a father who stubbornly clings to a flesh-and-blood existence for himself and his loved ones in the rotting remains of human society years after most people have uploaded themselves (“Staying Behind”). There is also some charm in the title tale, a fantasy stand-alone concerning a young woman snatched from her home and trained as a supernaturally powered assassin who retains a stubborn desire to seek her own path in life.

A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982134-03-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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