Lovers of Lassie, Come Home should be forewarned—but more adventurous readers may find Bradford’s uniquely daring and...

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DOGWALKER

STORIES

If you’re an admirer of David Lynch movies, you won’t want to miss this surpassingly bizarre debut collection—the work of a young Virginia writer and (as it happens) filmmaker.

It takes its time getting to you. A few of the 12 “stories” are little more than in-your-face fragments: “The Texas School for the Blind” and “South for the Winter,” for example, seem to be ideas left insufficiently developed. But even in the fuller narratives, Bradford’s unnamed first-person narrators are misfits without visible means of support or discernible moral natures—like the slacker protagonist of “Catface,” who passively relates his mistreatment by a succession of grand mal–eccentric apartment mates; or the just-barely-bemused visitor to “The House of Alan Matthews,” where a dope dealer keeps an acquaintance locked in a crawlspace. Stories in which Bradford gives his deranged imagination room to roam about are invariably better: a lurid cautionary tale about an intemperate loner (“Bill McQuill”) who lives too close to the railroad tracks; a Harry Crews–like yarn in which a dimwitted “practitioner . . . of chainsaw tricks” meets the masochist of his dreams; and “Roslyn’s Dog,” a dark and perfectly controlled fable of captivity and metamorphosis. Man’s best friend in fact pads confidently throughout Bradford’s cartoonlike lunar landscapes—nowhere more memorably than in the collection’s pièce de résistance “Dogs,” which begins when its narrator cheats on his girlfriend with her bitch (yes, literally), and gathers to its monstrous bosom a singing “muskrat,” a pregnant woman in an iron lung, and a canine barbershop quartet, the whole coalescing into a frenzied parable of paternity and unbelonging that’s one of the most eerily original American stories to come down the pike since the heyday of Flannery O’Connor.

Lovers of Lassie, Come Home should be forewarned—but more adventurous readers may find Bradford’s uniquely daring and provocative stories well worth their attention. (His first film, How’s Your News?, is scheduled to air on HBO this summer.)

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-41232-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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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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