With the caveat that a certain racial epithet still retains its power to shock here, an essential book for any library of...

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LONG, LAST, HAPPY

NEW AND COLLECTED STORIES

“In Mississippi it is difficult to achieve a vista,” wrote the late laureate Hannah (Yonder Stands Your Orphan, 2001, etc.) of his native state. He was wrong: He provided some of the best vistas in American literature, as this collection of short fiction ably shows.

The early stories here, dating to the mid-1960s, show Hannah at his Faulknerian finest, writing small elegant tales in long sentences that loop and oxbow to rival Old Man River himself (a third of a representative sentence: “that is that part of his speech which I was able to hear persuaded me, for the jacking of the asses, the lament of the eunuchs, the cries of the lost, the general din of the vulgar in their ascent ahead were overpowering”). As the chronologically ordered collection progresses, the author’s sentences become shorter and punchier, though no less poetic: “The dead sit around us in their great hats, nude, yammering away nevertheless.” Hannah reveals early on a few recurring characters (the unfortunately named Farte family, for instance) and set themes, including a preoccupation with soldiers—the subject of his 1978 collection Airships—and particularly with soldiers who come into unfortunate play with civilians who often use them poorly. Throughout, no matter what the year, Hannah proves again and again his ability to compress whole lives into single paragraphs, as when in the title story he summarizes the soul of a librarian turned classicist deeply mistrustful of love and willfully self-sufficient (“Versed in her own degree in history and art, she was decorating the house”) and elsewhere writes admiringly of a woman who, in quite a feat down in bayou country, can out-drink any man and then get up promptly the next day to make the world turn.

With the caveat that a certain racial epithet still retains its power to shock here, an essential book for any library of Southern literature—and a welcome guide for students of writing as well.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1968-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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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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