Pathos and panic and penitence from one of the darkest and most singular minds in contemporary American lit.




Palahniuk (Beautiful You, 2014, etc.) comes roaring back from a stretch of experimentalism with 23 tales celebrating his ongoing affection for the macabre.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Chuck at his most hard-core; he spent the last few years toying with satire, working his way into the heads of female narrators and curating the twisted anthology Burnt Tongues (2014). Here, he makes it absolutely clear that he’s still the man who wrote “Guts,” the infamous story that made fans pass out at readings. “The Toad Prince” makes “Guts” look like a fairy tale by comparison. It’s the story of an enterprising young pervert who has infected his member with a fistful of vile diseases in order to launch a new era in extreme body modification fetishism. “Romance” takes apart traditional relationships with the story of a chubby dude who falls in love with a superhot Britney Spears look-alike who may or may not be dimwitted on a level approaching disability. There are some echoes here—“Eleanor” is written in a strange, imitative patois that strongly recalls the novel Pygmy (2009), and a trio of fables resembles David Sedaris’ Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. But the core stories are pure muscle. The book opens with “Knock-knock,” about a son trying to save his father from death with dirty jokes. The best (black) comedy comes from “Zombies,” which finds America’s gifted teens indulging in the hot new fad of taking a defibrillator to their skulls. The purest horror comes from “Inclinations,” which begins with an adolescent girl using her unplanned pregnancies to collect Porsches from her parents before delving into a catalog of horrors at a sexual reorientation camp for teens. For fans, the book has “Expedition,” which contains Palahniuk’s first hints about Tyler Durden’s true nature in advance of the upcoming Fight Club 2, to be released as comic books starting soon.

Pathos and panic and penitence from one of the darkest and most singular minds in contemporary American lit.

Pub Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53805-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2015

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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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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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