An imaginatively sculpted collection of absurdist concepts applied liberally to the equally preposterous notion of growing...

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SIGHTINGS

STORIES

Mischievous Native Americans, melancholy clowns and zealous history re-enactors are just a few of the strange and curious denizens of this debut short story collection.

There’s even a sasquatch to be found in the title story by award-winning essayist Hollars (Creative Writing/University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; Thirteen Loops, 2011). Along the way, the author uses a clever array of monstrosities and startling imagery to cast an eerie light on the tropes of coming-of-age. The first story is the most subtle, as “Indian Village” finds a band of suburban teens at war with an invading tribe. “Schooners” is a finely-spun confessional whose main point seems to be its punch line. Other stories are laden with broad comedy laced with just a little sadness. “Westward Expansion” tells the story of a boy whose father is obsessed with a distant relative who traversed the Oregon Trail and delivers much suffering onto his family in the name of Manifest Destiny. “Sightings” and “The Clowns” also make much hay out of traditional nightmares. In the former, a true-to-life sasquatch is recruited to the local basketball team and even gets to take a girl to the prom. In the latter, a family of nose-honking, big-shoed jesters is forced to move in with relatives after the death of their son. Other missing children figure prominently in the last two stories. “Robotics” finds a boy building a mechanical replica of his dead brother out of a vacuum. “Missing Mary” is the story of a disappearance—the awful, senseless absence of a girl—with a leaden final passage: “Years later, as Mary’s sister sits silently in chemistry class, science will give her an answer: My sister has simply turned soluable,” Hollars writes. “A moment there and then gone.” All of these stories represent a talented tightrope walk between genres and a gentle lesson in craftsmanship for aspiring storytellers.

An imaginatively sculpted collection of absurdist concepts applied liberally to the equally preposterous notion of growing up.

Pub Date: March 21, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-253-00838-1

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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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