Park’s stories render the shape-shifting weight of love with a subtle but emotionally penetrating accuracy.

GODS AND ANGELS

In 13 stories set mostly in his native Northern Ireland, novelist Park (The Poets’ Wives, 2014, etc.) explores the emotional lives of men from youth to old age.

While Park occasionally flirts with high culture—the opening story, “Learning to Swim,” features a young Donne scholar from England finding a poem for his new, older, richer, but less educated Belfast acquaintance to recite at his wedding; “The Kiss” swings between the scoundrel painter Caravaggio’s betrayal of a friend and present-day adultery—the emphasis here is on the daily grind of love. In the heart-wrenching “Boxing Day,” a teenager spends a miserable afternoon with his mentally ill mother, impatient to return to the new happy family his father has created yet longing to “know [his] mother as she must once have been.” Although the island on which the retired teacher in “Skype” lives may be extreme in its isolation, his yearning to stay connected with his faraway daughter via her preferred technology captures the zeitgeist of contemporary parenthood. In “Man Overboard,” four childhood friends, now middle-aged, spend an awkward fishing trip not really talking “about ourselves in the present” until one of them faces a crisis and the others react, revealing the potential tenderness of male friendship. Park shows love gone bad—the cop assigned a surveillance beat by day in “Keeping Watch” spends nights on unofficial surveillance of his ex-wife’s house despite a court order, his inability to let go turned into sickness—but the best stories here approach marital love as a complex organism. Technology is again the metaphor in “The Bloggers,” about a married couple’s evolution online and off. The long, seemingly moribund marriage in “Gecko” endures and reblooms once the husband accepts his own limitations. In “Old Fool,” the lonely widower who allows a struggling single mother to take advantage of his optimistic naiveté is also consciously compensating for his failure to appreciate his wife while she was alive.

Park’s stories render the shape-shifting weight of love with a subtle but emotionally penetrating accuracy.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-40886-607-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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