A GRAM OF MARS

STORIES

paper 1-889330-22-1 A debut collection, mostly focusing on families and family relations, that was awarded the 1997 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. Family life takes on unusual permutations in Hagenston’s world, where people commonly find that their desire to be left alone forces them into someone else’s arms—or clutches. The title piece, for example, depicts a grown-up daughter watching helplessly as her father slowly cracks up over the remarriage of his ex-wife and the sale of their house. In “All the Happiness in the World,” a woman who stole her ex-roommate’s boyfriend looks on with some discomfort as the same woman now marries an accountant on the rebound. “Till Death Do Us Part” portrays a young daughter’s increasingly jaded attendance at her restless mother’s many successive weddings, while the even more blatantly comic “Fugue” offers us another daughter’s recollections of her obsessive father (who locks himself away for years while building an organ in the attic of his house). “Holding the Fort” describes the discomfort that overtakes a young woman who returns to her childhood home (while her parents are away on vacation) after the breakup of her marriage. Eerie and affecting, the story’s written in an evocative style (“She feels as if she’s rooting around for some trapdoor into the life she’s supposed to be living now; single, footloose and fancy-free, that sort of thing”) that’s present throughout the collection but employed to best advantage here. A nice beginning: Limited in scope but attentive to detail, Hagenston’s stories draw the reader easily into a world that is deceptively familiar—only to show how little anyone knows about it.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-889330-21-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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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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