This quick read is a mixed bag of dark, disturbing stories, with a couple of literary gems.

MY STALIN DOLL

7 STORIES

A collection of contemporary short stories with some touches of magic realism.

Anger seems to be the dominant theme running through the seven stories in Crane’s debut collection. Readers are treated to angry employees like the protagonists of “The Little Flower of the Newsroom” and the haunting “The Last Day is Better than the First”; characters who seem unnaturally predisposed to anger like those in the title story and “The Judgement of the Light”; and a trio of angry old ladies in “The Sleeper Awakes,” “The Ghost” and “Return of the Prodigal.” Women in general come across as a mean-spirited, conniving, murderous group who are only slightly redeemed by the more goodhearted women of the final story, “The Judgment of the Light.” Crane produces spot-on descriptions like that of an old man’s body that was “as thin and shapeless as a can of Pringles” and clever turns of phrase such as “[h]e’d learned to live with it, the way people learn to live with leprosy or a criminal record,” but at times the phrases are clunky, like the narrator’s description of his life in the title story as “an accretion of uninteresting contingencies” or the explanation from “The Ghost” that “their moral calculus conferred upon father and son a right to unrestrained verbal vengeance.” Tales like “The Little Flower of the Newsroom,” with its clever title and unexpected conclusion, and the haunting glimpse into the mind of a mass murderer in “The Last Day is Better than the First,” make this slim volume worthy of further exploration. Readers will likely have more difficulty identifying with the mentally unbalanced first-person narrator of the title story and the angry young protagonist of “The Judgement of the Light.” Also difficult to identify with are Mrs. Marion from “The Ghost” and the elderly woman in “The Sleeper Awakes,” both of whom are filled with hatred for their daughters-in-law, though it’s possible that, based on the images only she can see on a static-filled television channel, the latter may be justified in her disapproval.

This quick read is a mixed bag of dark, disturbing stories, with a couple of literary gems.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-1456444020

Page Count: 145

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

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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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