HIGH LONESOME

STORIES

Thirteen vivid, scabrous, and noisy stories from the Mississippi romantic whose earlier volumes (Airships, 1978; Bats Out of Hell, 1993) contained most of the essentials, and even some of the particulars, of the more recent pieces gathered here. The characters in Hannah's rowdy tales are almost always the same: Eccentric misfits or disaffected intellectuals who are afflicted by love and lust the way Flannery O'Connor's people are obsessed with God and religion. Booze and regrets are key elements in this latest collection, which differs from Hannah's previous work only in its nagging emphasis on midlife crisis. Even in the slightest stories (e.g., ``The Ice Storm'' and ``Ned Maxy, He Watching You''), the sense of wasted opportunity and of a persistent longing for a better life are almost always preternaturally strong. We seem to be hearing, with minimal narrative variations, the ongoing confession of a single self- castigating protagonist. The best tales include ``Get Some Young,'' in which a moody Korean War vet and his moodier wife are transformed by their encounter with a handsome young boy; ``Carriba,'' about a former journalist who tries to bring peace to a family traumatized by mass murders; and the affecting ``Drummer Down,'' which portrays a would-be-writer who killed himself and vibrates thereafter in the memory of his more ``successful'' friend. Most memorable of all is ``Uncle High Lonesome,'' the first-person story of a boy who simultaneously idolizes and despises the title character, a romantic hunter and boorish racist. It takes off onto an exhilarating higher level with the narrator's revelation that his uncle once murdered a man, and that the murder and its attendant guilt has become a kind of inheritance passed down through the generations. When Hannah's stories are really about something—other than the omnipresent comic-depressive mood that has long dominated his fiction—they can get under your skin and haunt you. Only fitfully, however, are such sparks struck here. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-87113-668-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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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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