Di Benedetto’s view of the world is gloomy, his writing precise and poetic. It’s a winning combination.

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NEST IN THE BONES

Collection of stories by the newly rediscovered Argentinean writer Di Benedetto (1922-86), who blends the fantastic sensibilities of Borges and Kafka with the profound pessimism of Dostoyevsky.

A father, wealthy and disconnected, brings a palm tree to his estate and a monkey to go along with it. The monkey takes refuge in the tree and “only came down to scrounge or eat whatever food some kindly soul laid out at the foot of his dwelling.” The man’s son reckons that although he doesn’t have a palm tree to call his own, he is a monkey himself—and moreover, one who has made in the palm tree of his mind room for a whole flock of “blissful sparrows, canaries, and partridges.” So goes the title story, taken from Di Benedetto's first collection, Animal World, published in 1953. Later collections shed animal metaphors for more straightforward depictions of people who are unfailingly put upon, men and women who talk past one another in landscapes of “withered leaves gone brown, soon to rot,” who venture into the mosquito-infested jungle for no good reason except to satisfy the hunger of the inhabitants: “if those tiny beasts had a soul and their souls were inclined to vengeance,” thinks the adventurous journalist at the center of the beguiling story “Orthopterans,” from a collection published in 1983, “they will feed on me as soon as I fall still.” So they do. One of the most memorable stories here involves a Bartleby-like refusal on the part of an itinerant gaucho to take work that does not suit his dignity, an identification with the oppressed that explains why Di Benedetto should have run afoul of Argentina’s military junta in the 1970s—but that does not explain why his work should have been overlooked for so long, a gap this collection of short fiction helps remedy.

Di Benedetto’s view of the world is gloomy, his writing precise and poetic. It’s a winning combination.

Pub Date: May 23, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-914671-72-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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