Dark stories, sometimes downright murky.

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THE SEND-AWAY GIRL

STORIES

Uneven first collection, another Flannery O’Connor Award winner (see Fincke, above): ten stories about underachievers, losers, and girls “endlessly seeking security.”

In the strongest piece, “Rabbit Punch,” a bipolar Virginia Woolf scholar recognizes a teenaged boy whose face is in the morning paper for committing a sensational crime. She’d been his babysitter years before, at a time when she was taking medication after being fired from a teaching job, drinking too much, sleeping too little and painting trompe l’oeil murals on the walls of her apartment. He was an out-of-control nine-year-old. Even his parents disliked him, but, in a small way, she’d found a way to connect, if not to like him. Now his potential for violence has been realized. The vaguely comic “The Rest of Esther” is about a naïve girl in the development department of a seminary who’s sent to convince a nonagenarian to leave her millions to the institution—and instead influences the legacy in ways none could have predicted. In the sketchy “Maybe, Maybe Not,” a woman has just married the boy next door from 31 years before, discovering that each recalls a pie-throwing incident as a most vivid childhood memory. Too often, Sutton’s stories are just unclear. The title story opens: “The afternoon’s snow still had the lift of an infant’s blanket—or teased hair, maybe a spongy Orlon sweater, the bed of cotton under jewelry. Jewelry. The girl couldn’t even think the word jewelry anymore without feeling the lot of the hopelessly cheap crawl into bed with her, every last scallop of ‘let’s pretend’—let’s pretend at midnight trysts, at cabs from here to there, at ocelot clutch bags with their own matching lighters.” On the next page, we learn that the narrator was once a gofer for a jeweler (as in “Send the girl”), and the story is about the scrapes she got into working at various jobs, including as secretary to a man with an unhappy marriage.

Dark stories, sometimes downright murky.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-8203-2655-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2004

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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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