A nimble and very funny collection of stories from a writer who clearly values the human condition in all its myriad forms.

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THE MIGHTY CURRAWONGS

& OTHER STORIES

A collection of 31 delightful short stories from Doyle (Chicago, 2016, etc.), a prolific writer and editor of Portland Magazine.

It’s obvious that the writer loves this medium, and it’s remarkable how much stylistic alchemy and diversity he’s able to invest in a rather slim book. It opens with “A Surf Story,” a terrific little slice-of-life tale about a wealthy retiree who adopts a troubled kid in Hawaii, detailed in the most unromantic prose ever. “This Is the Part Where You Say Something Real” is about an argument between a long-married couple, no more, no less. A number of the stories address matters of faith, as happens with “The Archbishop Loses His Faith,” “The Lutheran Minister’s Daughter,” and “The New Bishop.” The stories are often compassionate toward their subjects, but Doyle also has a sweet sense of humor that can be disarming. In “Dear Mum,” the author achieves a laugh-out-loud moment in the opening sentences: “Good news: all charges were dropped. Bad news: we have to return both police cars.” Others are subtler but still funny, as with the opener, “It began, as many brilliant and complex things begin, in a pub,” from “A Note on Countification.” Doyle offers a pair of brilliant bookends in the companion stories about a young chess player named Elson Habib. Another duet happens in the pages of “The Detours” and “The Lucid Moments,” two stories about being in a band that capture the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of being young and cool. Stories about a tailor who specializes in holes, the title story about an all-Chinese Australian Rules football club in Box Hill, and a pair of very funny Christmas-themed stories round out the collection.

A nimble and very funny collection of stories from a writer who clearly values the human condition in all its myriad forms.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-597-09052-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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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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