The eeriness of these stories grows overly familiar, but there’s no question Morrow knows how to conjure a mood.

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THE UNINNOCENT

A set of neo-Gothic tales that seek out the line between sanity and madness in modern suburbia.

The stories in this collection by Morrow (The Diviner’s Tale, 2011, etc.) consistently cultivate a tone of creepy unease. The narrator of “Tsunami” coolly explains why she killed her husband, but it slowly becomes clear to the reader that she’s unaware of the degree to which she’s become undone by a series of tragedies in her life, while her fixation on global catastrophes underscores her loss of perspective. “Ellie’s Idea” gives this slow kind of mental decline a slightly comic pitch: Determined to put her life in order after her husband leaves her, the narrator calls people she feels she’s slighted, which does more harm than good. Adolescents abound in these stories, and it’s easy to see why Morrow finds them appealing—they exemplify a mix of growing confusion about and awareness of the world. The title story focuses on two young sisters who pine for a brother they never had, while “The Enigma of Grover’s Mill” centers on a 15-year-old boy who’s struggling to negotiate the new man in his grandmother’s life and his own awkward sexual awakening. Each story is skillfully turned, though a sameness to the insanity emerges—nearly everybody who loses it is hyperliterate and heartbroken, and ghoulish twists have a way of leaping from the final paragraphs. The best stories play with form: In “(Mis)laid,” parenthetical comments offer retorts to an official narrative about a man taking his estranged wife hostage, and the closing “Lush” smartly alternates narratives between an alcoholic’s grueling path to sobriety and a woman who becomes an unlikely part of his life.

The eeriness of these stories grows overly familiar, but there’s no question Morrow knows how to conjure a mood.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60598-265-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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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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