NECESSARY FICTIONS

A collection of ten stories that earned author Croft (Primary Colors, 1991) the 1998 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. Mostly set in the rural Midwest, Croft’s stories move slowly through the unfolding routines of family affairs and clan history. They—re written in a cyclical, almost obsessive style. That reflects the continual gathering and re-gathering of the same people in the same places, again and again: domestic life, in other words. The unhappily married college professor of “The Woman in the Headlights,” for example, is unable to take any pleasure from his surreptitious love affair, partly because he’s haunted by the automobile accident in which he killed an elderly pedestrian some years before. In “Bonaparte,” an artistic young mother abandons her dull husband and runs away to New Orleans with her little boy; there, she begins an abortive affair but returns to Chicago when her husband comes looking for her. “Them” is about two families that suddenly collide: the drab suburbanites who live in a Frank Lloyd Wright’style house in Illinois, and the troubled intellectual tourists who ask to be allowed a look inside. The most ambitious piece, however, is the title novella, portraying the family life of Ray Gerhardt, a carpenter and father of three, whose obsession with building the perfect home leads to his apparent suicide when he’s unable to face the compromises demanded of him by the contracting business. Like all tales here, it’s taut, evocative, and haunting. A light touch and a good ear will always carry the day: Croft fits her voice to her characters perfectly and, with consummate skill, fits her characters to their world.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 1998

ISBN: 0-8229-4078-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. of Pittsburgh

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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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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