A smart, insightful collection of stories about life and love.

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LOVE, IN THEORY

TEN STORIES

Levy’s award-winning short story collection masterfully explores the vagaries of romantic love.

In Levy’s (Amazons: A Love Story, 2012) 10 lyrical gems, disparate characters struggle without someone to love, and some are paralyzed and shocked by the loss of affection. In “Theory of Transportation,” Thomas sleepwalks to a movie theater on the night of his lover’s death. In “The Best Way Not to Freeze,” a reclusive English professor, Katie, falls for Ben, a man of the world who teaches her how to portage a canoe in the wilderness, but after invigorating her life, he returns to his ex. Most of Levy’s stories are peopled with highly educated characters interested in highbrow subjects—Nietzsche, French Impressionism, Persian rugs. They can’t help intellectualizing the confusing whys and hows of love. For example, in “Theory of Enlightenment,” Gil leaves Renee, trading their discussions of botany and Mahler for yogic asanas and incense at a Buddhist retreat. “Sometimes one plus one can equal less than two,” Gil tells her. Levy’s prose is deeply philosophical and sometimes heady but never pompous. It depicts infidelity and loss yet avoids melancholy and sentimentality, as the characters often don’t have the expected reactions to difficulties—they are too cerebral for that. Levy beautifully explores the pitfalls of domestic life in “Gravity,” in which Richard attends his sister’s second wedding, as do his mother, father and father’s mistress. The bride is nearly inconsequential in this poignant vignette; instead, the story focuses on Richard, who evaluates his own relationship in light of his familial peculiarities. The final story, “Theory of Dramatic Action,” employs a second-person narrator, as if to finally address the reader directly; it’s also the only one bordering on edgy, as a dominatrix tempts the heroine. Levy’s taut prose, intelligence and emotional acuity penetrate nearly every sentence. Fans of Amy Bloom’s short stories are likely to enjoy Levy’s work. Readers will likely savor this collection, a 2011 winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, for its intoxicating language and introspection.

A smart, insightful collection of stories about life and love.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0820343495

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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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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