VAQUITA

AND OTHER STORIES

This year's Drue Heinz Awardwinner collects 15 stories, many of which have been published in literary magazines. Most of these elegantly written pieces concern privileged protagonists who eventually discover ``the harsh light of this world.'' Pearlman's doctors, professors, and patricians all must confront, in varying ways, the indignities of illness or old age. In the title story, a Holocaust survivor, now a prominent government minister in a Latin American country, ponders her future as the country undergoes violent political change. In ``The Cook,'' an American-born dwarf who cares for abandoned children in a repressive Latin country must confront the possibility that the government is using these kids to harvest organs. Less dramatically, the American Jewish grandfather in ``To Reach This Season'' travels to Central America to meet the young native boy his homosexual son is adopting. A fine quartet of related pieces focus on Donna, a genteel, ``drab Christian'' who runs a soup kitchen for women. We follow her courtship by Raphael, a Jewish psychiatrist who doesn't fully appreciate Donna's charitable impulses. Donna discovers her own ambiguous feelings about the poor in ``Dorothea,'' but eventually she and Raphael (who's come to value Donna's work) hold their wedding at the soup kitchen. The elderly historian in ``Cavalier'' will not go gentle into that good night, until a female attendant encourages him to tell her stories based on his area of expertise. The retired schoolteacher in ``Settlers,'' who lives on the edges of other people's lives, finds his happy old age harshly altered. While a young doctor recuperates on Cape Cold from cancer in ``The Noncombatant,'' he must deal with the exuberance of all around him as WW II comes to an end. Clearly, the play of conflicting passions animates Pearlman's fictive imagination. And two fabulistic pieces—one about a professional letter writer—further testify to her belief in redemptive art. A solid debut from a writer worth keeping an eye on.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1996

ISBN: 0-8229-3962-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Univ. of Pittsburgh

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996

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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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