FAMILY REUNION

AND OTHER STORIES

The lead novella in this final and posthumous book is, aptly enough, a comic intrigue concerning a burial that manages, on the way to the family plot, to skewer a lot of southern and northern pretensions in vintage Fleming style (Captain Bennett's Folly, etc.). The narrator here, self-important womanizer Bob Otis, is busy bringing out his novel via a vanity press when a long-lost cousin from the North (``Up There'') calls, wanting to bring ``Dad'' home for burial in the family plot. Otis's wife has left, ``walking out with our five-year-old (who was becoming more real every minute like a negative in the developer).'' Even local members of the family-to-be-reunited can't remember each other's names, and things get further complicated when a black couple from the British West Indies with a similar name, having seen a Broadway play about the family homestead (by Lucinda Fannin of Lucinderella, 1988), arrive to avail themselves of the facilities. The comedy rolls along effortlessly, then comes up against a rather abrupt end, giving it an unfinished quality. Four short stories unevenly pad the collection: ``Afternoon in the Country'' and ``Happy New Year, Mr. Ganaway'' involve supernatural visitations or premonitions (the former, with overtones of ``The Open Window,'' is the more successful); ``War Memorial'' reflects on Nazism and the South in a hospital venue, while ``Beach Party,'' with an abandoned hostess in a leg brace, reads like an unintentional parody of Flannery O'Connor. A graceful writer with a good ear, Fleming is at his best with the wild yet fundamentally gentle satire on familiar turf that he brings off in ``Family Reunion''; the stories seem, by comparison, a writer's exercises and a publisher's afterthoughts.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1991

ISBN: 1-877946-08-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

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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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