Slick, smart, and funny.

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LIVES OF THE CIRCUS ANIMALS

Straight and gay lives share the stage in a good-natured Broadway valentine refreshingly free of theatrical excess.

Anyone whose misbegotten past includes time on or around the boards will recognize the loving accuracy Bram (The Notorious Dr. August, 2000, etc.) brings to his often hilarious take on love spurned, mismatched, and rearranged on and way-off Broadway. The tales are hung on the lives of playwright Caleb Doyle and his sister Jessie. Caleb has not recovered from the loss of his lover to AIDS and is seriously blocked following the savaging in the New York Times of his last play. Jessie cannot bring herself to return the love of Frank Earp, an administrative assistant whose theatrical passions have been channeled to freelance directing. Jessie, who loves the theater but lacks a role, has found work managing the life of distinguished, openly gay, middle-aged British actor Henry Lewse (readers may supply their own models), who is happily making big bucks in a typically dumb and successful musical remake of a screwball comedy film. Lewse, who steals every scene he’s in, has, through the miracle of commercial phone sex, stumbled into the fantasies of Caleb Doyle and, through believable coincidence (theater’s a very small world) the ambitions of Caleb’s beautiful, thick, actor ex-boyfriend Toby Vogler, who, if he only had a few emotions to remember, just might have a future. All of these characters have, one way or another, come into contact with Kenneth Prager, the second-string Times critic who shot down Caleb’s play and who has been assigned a story on Henry Lewse. With the smooth machinations of a Feydeau farce, the progresses, regressions, and couplings lead steadily to Caleb’s big birthday party in the penthouse he may have to sell if he can’t get a good play going. Among his guests will be his little Irish Catholic police widow mum packing heat.

Slick, smart, and funny.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-054253-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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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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