These memorable stories are loosely connected by lots of sex but too little love. The thread that holds it all together is...

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EIGHTBALL

Geoghegan’s (Natural Disasters, 2014, etc.) eloquently told stories examine themes of loneliness, sex, addiction, and grief through the lens of unfamiliar cultures and languages.

Part love stories, part travelogues, these are tales of world-weary characters, almost all of them women with appetites. They are at home everywhere and nowhere, stopping for a time in Rome, Seattle, Boulder, Bangkok, or Chicago. Wry humor and a ferocious authenticity inform their missed cues, bar scenes, bed fumbles, and picturesque ramblings. They crave love or connection but mostly end up with fractured, halfhearted intimacies. Geoghegan bravely navigates the rough terrain of the privileged and the chronically unloved with exquisite skill, impeccable pacing, and literary turns of phrase. During a harrowing car ride along the Amalfi coast in "The Violet Hour," Violet’s lover, a photographer, tells her to hold the wheel so he can take a shot of the rain-drenched cliff and the water below. She is terrified but does what she's told. “That had been the hook. Billy’s ability to turn a hardship into a thing of beauty, crystalizing it in a single image made at precisely the right moment. Plenty of people can point and shoot. Few are able to gaze through the lens and truly see.” In "eightball," the last story in the collection, younger sister Quinn adores her older brother, Patrick. They share typical sibling misadventures: Patrick falls off a ladder Quinn is holding. He breaks his arm and shatters a wrist. Later, they share other things, like a taste for alcohol and cocaine. Too late, the effects of dysfunctional parents and squandered gifts result in a downward spiral that seems inevitable. There’s wry humor and mysterious grief here, the hidden kind that comes unbidden after several tequila shots.

These memorable stories are loosely connected by lots of sex but too little love. The thread that holds it all together is Geoghegan’s cool, articulate demeanor and masterful writing.

Pub Date: May 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-939650-95-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Santa Fe Writers Project

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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