An impressive step forward for a writer of commanding gifts, who seems poised on the threshold of even greater...

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CORONADO

STORIES

Tough-as-nails crime fiction transcends genre in this first collection of five stories and a play (developed from one of them) from the Boston-area novelist (Sacred, 1997, etc.).

One hopes Clint Eastwood (who directed the Oscar-winning film based on Lehane’s superb Mystic River, 2001) will take a close look at “Running Out of Dog,” a pungent slice of Southern Gothic noir populated by runaway canines, restless Vietnam vets and the alluring women who seduce them into one another’s paths, fateful confrontations, and a savage fulfillment of its narrator’s observation that “when hope comes late to a man, it’s a dangerous thing.” This one is a classic: Robert Stone at his most unrelenting, with nerve-grating additional material contributed by Jim Thompson and dialogue by George V. Higgins. Lehane shows his talent for narrative economy in a brisk tale of revenge for drug-induced manslaughter (“Mushrooms”) and a surprisingly rich account (“Gone Down to Corpus”) of Texas high-school football jocks trashing the elegant homes of their “betters,” their destructive energies propelled by what the story’s narrator calls “something . . . I’m mad at, something I can’t put a name to.” The taut, disturbing “Until Gwen” employs grating, accusatory second-person narration to explore the murderous bonds linking a soulless con man, his hapless son (and sometime accomplice) and Gwen, whose fate drives the story toward its excruciating conclusion. And if all this weren’t sufficient evidence of Lehane’s virtuosity, there’s “Coronado,” which expands “Until Gwen” into a two-act play (premiered in New York in 2005) that reshuffles its aforementioned characters into three doomed couples who enact a murderous and suicidal progression through dynamic action, detailed flashbacks and harrowing fantasy sequences. It’s a knockout performance.

An impressive step forward for a writer of commanding gifts, who seems poised on the threshold of even greater accomplishment.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-113967-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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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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