Morgan’s stories may not be for the squeamish or the easily baffled, but open-minded readers ready for a challenge will...

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THE SEVEN AUTOPSIES OF NORA HANNEMAN

Morgan takes a radical approach to the linked-story collection in her first book, shaping a young woman's life in tales that range from naturalistic to wildly speculative fiction.

Different though they are, these stories all offer perspectives on the title character—or, at least, some version of her. This isn’t the kind of conventional collection in which glimpses of a character at different points of her life are arranged in chronological order. Nora doesn’t have just one life but multiple existences in alternate realities. The book opens with a virtuoso tale in which one of the Noras, murdered when she is 28, reflects in lyrical prose on key moments in her life as another, matter-of-fact voice recites the details of her autopsy. One Nora falls victim to a drug-addled trucker while hitchhiking, and another gives birth first to a baby made of “newsprint and twine” and then to one that is simply a “ball of fur.” Many of the Noras are young, pre-pubescent or adolescent, just discovering their own bodies or those of others. Sex, often linked with violence, is a constant in the stories, like the one in which the young Nora and a friend explore each other so thoroughly that one of them is completely devoured, or the one in which an older Nora forms an uneasy connection with a sex robot she names Noreen. The stories, often experimental, share in common not so much their plots or structures but recurring motifs: the transformation of humans into birds, an angry mother dying of cancer, the messy details of bodily existence. Often, the stories have more than one teller, inviting the reader to hold two separate perspectives on a series of events simultaneously.

Morgan’s stories may not be for the squeamish or the easily baffled, but open-minded readers ready for a challenge will delight in discovering the many sides of her mysterious heroine.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-57366-059-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: FC2/Univ. of Alabama

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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