Emotionally resonant stories for readers who feel wistful and unsatisfied with their pasts, surely a universal experience.

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THE NIGHT IS YOUNG

Lockhart’s (Elizabeth’s Field, 2015, etc.) collection of short literary fiction offers a series of character studies.

The 16 stories in this book follow folks in a small town in Maryland called Puckum and the surrounding rural area. The tone is set with the first story, “Beginning with Puckum,” which finds Christmas angels detaching themselves from lampposts on Main Street and sweeping across the landscape, wistful for what they once were and searching for reminders. That symbolism becomes more real in the stories that follow—a grandmother trying to keep her recollections of her family together, a couple tending to a farm and using each other for an uneasy stability, a widow confronted by memories bringing a bag of her son’s clothes to donate to a secondhand store. Most everyone in these stories has lost something. The characters have gone through divorce, watched loved ones die, or come to the sudden realization that the ideal life they’d hoped for isn’t going to happen. The landscape plays a part in enhancing this feeling of loss and nostalgia. Most of the shops downtown have left, replaced by thrift stores in “The Fox Fling.” “The Puckum Family Restaurant” is a classic diner where everyone has a well-established routine. The author imbues her character studies with impressive depth and insight. She has a knack for delivering a lot of detail in a sentence or two. The first paragraph of the final story, “Inside Out,” is a pitch-perfect setup: “He was serious, standing there with his hands in his pockets, his shirt pressed, shorts belted, clear, blue eyes peering down at me, and me, sixteen years older, looking off to the trees, trying to come up with an answer, annoyed at his impertinence.” The two major characters are introduced so the reader can see them and also feel the female narrator’s disposition. She ends up somewhere quite different from her attitude in the first paragraph, finding comfort in her uncertainty, at ease not knowing what might happen next but happy for the familiar things that surround her. And that’s also the note on which the collection ends, paralleling the arc from the opening story.

Emotionally resonant stories for readers who feel wistful and unsatisfied with their pasts, surely a universal experience.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-944962-27-2

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Secant Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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