ALL MY RELATIONS

STORIES

McIlroy, winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, offers unflinching and original portrayals of human weakness, solitude, and survival in the rural Southwest. In these stories, imperfect characters leading battered lives are as indomitable as the granite mountains and canyons that surround them. Dangerously receptive to the needs of others, McIlroy's characters drink more than they should, fare badly in relationships, and are prone to infidelity. In ``The March of the Toys,'' Claire escapes her self-destructive brother and slowly dying father in Delaware only to move in with an unemployed alcoholic in Tucson. After leaving her lover, she befriends Leah, whose much younger live-in boyfriend is hopelessly unfaithful. As Leah's domestic life deteriorates, Claire offers commiseration, and a therapeutic walk in the mountains ends in unexpected intimacy with the two women in Leah's bed. Sensing Leah's embarrassment about the incident, Claire explains it away and suppresses her own desire. Similarly accommodating is Milton, a Pima Indian in the title story, who trades the drunken, rootless life of the reservation men for sober, backbreaking work on a white man's ranch. Milton loses his job and family when, on a visit to the reservation, he is unable to refrain from drinking with friends in a bar. Accommodation inevitably leads to disappointment, which McIlroy's characters often accept with comprehending grace. Only Boehm, the jilted husband of ``In a Landscape Animals Shrink to Nothing,'' retaliates against his arrogant and faithless wife. On a predivorce vacation in Mexico, he leaves her, drugged with sleeping pills, buried to the neck in the sand of a moonlit beach. Even this ominous adieu, however, is marked by Boehm's untempered love: Before he departs, he carefully brushes the sand from her eyes and cheek. Tightly focused and tersely eloquent, McIlroy's stories chronicle human inconstancy and end up affirming a tranquil wisdom.

Pub Date: June 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8203-1602-4

Page Count: 189

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1994

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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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