A gem of a second collection from an immensely promising writer of unmistakably original—and distinctively...

AMONG THE MISSING

STORIES

Twelve new fictions, notable for their stylistic grace and captivating selection of incident, by the author of Fitting Ends (stories: 1995).

In imagining other lives we discover the gift of empathy, these tales suggest, yet dwelling too hard or too long on other people’s experiences may lead to erasure of the self. Indeed, Chaon’s characters often seem to be renewable variations of a single personality, inevitably egocentric and selfish, but he presents these traits as the curse of the hapless dreamer. Here, dreams do not waft up out of idle enchantments and lazy afternoons; they struggle forth, life rafts offering rescue to mauled and sinking adults, usually in their 30s, who recall the genesis of their dreaming in troubled childhoods. In the title story, a car bearing an entire family disappears near a lakeside summer cabin occupied by a boy and his mother; months later, the vehicle is discovered mysteriously intact at the bottom of the lake. This eerie incident teaches the boy about the final ineffability of his world and of his own family. In another fine piece, “I Demand to Know Where You Are Taking Me,” a woman’s brother-in-law, Wendell, is convicted of rape after her lawyer husband fails to successfully defend him. The couple agrees to store Wendell’s belongings until an appeal can be made, and the foul language of his parakeet, Wild Bill, prompts the wife’s doubt about Wendell’s innocence. The volume’s brilliant centerpiece, “Big Me,” involves Andy’s childhood spying on his neighbor, a man the child is convinced represents his future self. Andy makes notes on how to avoid becoming this distasteful man and is eventually caught snooping; the moment when the neighbor reads his life, inscribed in Andy’s notebook, as a foretelling of the boy’s is a breathtaking arrangement, a renewal of fiction’s special power. Chaon’s work is especially notable for his casually precise prose and deep intelligence for the resonant scene.

A gem of a second collection from an immensely promising writer of unmistakably original—and distinctively rewarding—literary gifts.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-345-44162-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

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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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