LIES OF THE SAINTS

A first collection that displays a sure hand and an even voice busily at work documenting the struggles of regular people trying to lead ordinary lives. At her best, McGraw encourages us to see sainthood in its human context, relevant to the most mundane experiences. Two of these nine stories have appeared in The Atlantic, others in small magazines, and most of them concern the stuff of domestic fiction—divorce, alcoholism, children. In ``The Return of the Argentine Tango Masters,'' an ex-husband arrives back in town to make things difficult for his remarried former wife, winning over her radio talk show audience with his smooth talk. A marriage gets off to a rocky start when the restaurateur of ``Rich'' is fooled at his engagement party into thinking he's won the lottery and decides on the spot to cancel his wedding, a mistake from which the eventual marriage seems incapable of recovering. Less plausibly, the young divorced woman in ``Her Father's House,'' a lifelong teetotaler, takes up drinking with a vengeance when her alcoholic father dies. ``A Suburban Story'' veers into the fantastical when a harried housewife is reported to have performed a miracle at a local clinic, even though her home life is in total disarray. This flirtation with saintliness emerges fully in the strongest part of the book, a triptych of related stories about a large Irish Catholic family, first seen through its mother, Mary Grace, who at 39, with five kids, begins to feel useless, old, and unappreciated. Ten years later, her daughter, the rosary-lusting 11-year-old Tracy, loses faith over the fate of her distemper- afflicted puppy. The last portrait, of a widowed Mary Grace many years later, finds her in conflict with her grown children over who had the firmer ``grip on holiness'' in her family. Without rancor, these poignant moral tales gently go beyond most family fiction; they would merit our attention even if that were their only distinction.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8118-1315-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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