Without quite the moral gravity of Alice Munro but with all the skill: Pearlman serves up exemplary tales, lively and lovely.

HONEYDEW

STORIES

Pearlman (Binocular Vision, 2011, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award) returns with another collection of closely observed, often devastating stories of more or less ordinary life.

Pearlman is a poet of eyes and hair; nearly every story features an observation, often in the form of an arresting image, of these features. So it is that in the opening story, in which an art historian figures, a woman appears whose “eyes in her lightly wrinkled face were the blue of a Veronese sky,” and so it is, in seeming homage to Chekhov, that in another story, a character sports “brown hair, too much of it, a blunt nose and chin, and a habit, during conversation, of fastening his gaze on one side of your neck or the other.” A vampire? No, just another character who’s not quite comfortable inside his or her own skin, as so many of Pearlman’s characters are not. Pearlman, who is in her late 70s, writes with the wisdom of accumulated experience, and many of her characters have suffered the loss of spouses, even if they themselves are not yet of age. One comparative youngster, a spry 49, has just lost her husband in war: “Each of his parts was severed from the others,” Pearlman writes arrestingly, “and his whole—his former whole—was severed from Paige.” Every word counts in that sentence, and Pearlman fills volumes with her economy of language, even if so much is devoted to such not-quite-usual matters as “corneal inlays” and people who bear odd sobriquets: “Louie the vegetable man was not composed of fruit or vegetables. He was composed of a cap, a face with little eyes and a big nose and a mouth missing some teeth, and a pile of assorted clothing from a junk shop.”

Without quite the moral gravity of Alice Munro but with all the skill: Pearlman serves up exemplary tales, lively and lovely.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-29722-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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