Wonderfully involving and intelligent work, from a strikingly gifted new writer.

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TROUBLEMAKER

AND OTHER SAINTS

With rude wit and raw emotional force, an impressive first collection depicts the complex and combative interrelationships of three Chinese-American families.

Eleven linked tales comprise a round-robin assortment of vivid glimpses of cultural and generational displacement and conflict, in both America and Hong Kong (at around the time of the “Handover,” marking independence from Great Britain)—beginning with the story of racially mixed teenager Laurel’s struggles with her reputation as a high school “Nobody” and ending (in “Thief”) when her boyfriend bungles a cat burglary during their Asian “vacation.” The intervening pieces focus in turn on such variously troubled characters as Laurel’s physician Georgianna Wong, married to a black man and burdened by her family’s old-world attitudes and imperatives (in the brilliantly constructed “Doctor”); a conservative “Mama” quietly attempting to arrange a marriage for her headstrong “bi” daughter (“All her life she’s had too many choices”); and a promiscuous “Beauty” who looks for excitement, if not love, among the personals ads, and sees herself with stunned clarity when her cousin’s brutal fiancé accosts her. The sense of traditional ways of behavior disintegrating and of families helplessly poised at one another’s throats gathers tremendous power, as Chiu weaves gracefully among her characters’ several stories. The pressure, for instance, that a high-speed new international economy exerts on fragile marriages and other “arrangements” is dramatized crisply in “Gentleman” and “Trader”—while the unforeseen consequences of ever-widening rifts between parents and children generate revealing drama in the story of a teenaged “Troublemaker” whose impulsive act of violence brings him eventually to a sobered encounter with a world far larger than any he has imagined, and especially in “Copycat,” where the “losses” of one child to suicide and another to Buddhism underscore the fragility of a truly “mixed” marriage.

Wonderfully involving and intelligent work, from a strikingly gifted new writer.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14715-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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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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