Varallo has a striking talent for drawing realistic characters, especially young people, and dropping them into situations...

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THINK OF ME AND I'LL KNOW

STORIES

Iowa Short Fiction Award winner Varallo (Out Loud, 2008, etc.) offers a third collection of short literary fiction.

Young, disaffected Mira moves from one job, one relationship, to another in the allegorical "Some Other Life," believing there’s some truth in the life of a reclusive child. "Time Apart Together" explores the ennui of a college dropout and lackadaisical garage band drummer. The young man shills for a soon-to-collapse credit company and attempts to shed Ursula, a girl obsessed with being wanted. Varallo moves the setting to high schools in "Everybody Knew," "Slow Car" and "Tragic Little Me." The first of the trio offers an unusual premise—a student confirms his self-absorption when he unwittingly puts on a class comedy skit the day after a fellow student dies. "Tragic Little Me" introduces Leaf, introverted and intellectually incurious but with a gift for art. Leaf appears again in the penultimate story, "Lucky Us," sharing an unsettled home with her mother and grandmother. That story crackles with an unexpected, electrifying moment as the grandmother is confronted by a mugger. As the young thug attempts to steal her takeout meal, she bites him, and "he screamed out in pain" and then "looked at Miriam as if she were someone who contained surprising depths. Someone worthy, even, of his worthless respect. He winked at her." The remaining stories, "The Nature and Aim of Fiction," "After the Finale," "No One at All" and the titular story feature in turn a supercilious writing student, a befuddled grandfather, a lonely young boy and a jobless father. Each of them, as with every other piece, unfolds with a sense of alienation, of children struggling to cope in a complex world and adults confused by circumstance.

Varallo has a striking talent for drawing realistic characters, especially young people, and dropping them into situations where resolutions are hard-earned and not always satisfying.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8101-5240-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Northwestern Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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