A vibrant, diverse collection.

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THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 2001

An excellent new edition of this popular anthology.

As might be expected from the author of several carefully researched novels (Prodigal Summer, 2000, etc.), guest editor Kingsolver suggests a predilection for stories with extraordinary content. In a lively introduction, she lays out three criteria for her selections: “They’ve told me something remarkable, they are beautifully executed, and they are nested in truth.” And most of the stories here do have “something remarkable” to tell. Rather than depicting the subtleties of “everyday American life,” these tales usually opt for more exotic subjects. Ha Jin’s “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town” depicts what it’s like to work at an American fast food restaurant in China, while Peter Ho Davies’s “Think of England” takes place in and around a Welsh countryside pub on the night after the D-day landing. Katherine Shonk’s “My Mother’s Garden” presents life near Chernobyl’s contaminated zone, while Andrea Barrett’s “Servants of the Map” centers on a British surveyor in the Himalayas during the 1860s. The stories not set in far-flung locations are often about unusual perspectives, like that of the morbidly obese man in Claire Davis’s “Labors of the Heart” or of the character in Rick Bass’s ultra-factual “The Fireman.” Such tales can leave one with the feeling of having read nonfiction as much as fiction. Kingsolver allows quotidian subject matter only if it’s in the hands of an Alice Munro (“Post and Beam”) or a John Updike (“Personal Archeology”). Younger writers—a generous number are here—have to earn their way by writing about Hong Kong, Madagascar, or Buffalo in the1930s. Also of interest is a posthumously published story by the Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West (1907–98).

A vibrant, diverse collection.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-395-92689-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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