LIZARD

SHORT STORIES

Six short stories from Japan's popular literary star (N.P., 1994, etc.) offer pallid bromides, blending postmodern cool with superficial explorations of ``time, healing, karma, and fate.'' Products of an affluent society that has embraced the West but not forgotten its fundamental traditions, the characters are uncertain of the future, skeptical of materialism, yearning to end the anomie and existential pain they feel. In ``Lizard,'' the title and most notable story, a doctor who works with emotionally disturbed children loves a young woman in whose reptile eyes ``I see my own lonely face, peering down, looking for something to love and cherish.'' Haunted by a brutal attack she witnessed as a child, Lizard has become an acupuncture practitioner dedicated to healing those in pain, but she cannot forget her past; only a confession of a similar painful memory from her lover offers them both solace. The protagonist of ``Blood and Water'' leaves the religious commune she was raised in, but finds that, troubled by ``the sorrow that clings to life,'' she can only be comforted by her lover's ``tough resilience.'' Other stories describe a date in an empty restaurant that helps a writer and his girlfriend understand that, though the way they think may be completely different, they are the ``archetypal couple'' whose relationship is the ``dance of two souls resonating like the twist of DNA'' (``Helix''); a man's encounter on a train with a stranger who reveals to him a universal life force that encompasses even ``the slight feeling of alienation'' he experiences in his marriage (``Newly-Wed''); a young wife's liberating realization that her marriage is secure (``Kimchee''); and the revelation of a family secret that offers hope to a woman with a sexual past (``A Strange Tale from Down by the River''). In general, the stories are too slender to support Yoshimoto's attempts to detail spiritual awakenings. As insubstantial as sushi without the fish. (First printing of 75,000)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-8021-1564-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1994

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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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