“Try not to be cruel.” “I loved Eyes Wide Shut.”

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ALL HIS SONS

A NOVELLA AND NINE STORIES

If this were a movie written by Raphael, the climactic dialogue might sound like this:

“How could it happen?” “Look, he’s fabulous and swings both ways, novels and screenplays. But slack moments happen in his films too. Look at that final scene between Sidney Pollack and Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut. The air shoots right out of the movie. Too much talk.” “And you’re saying?” “This novella, All His Sons. Too many notes, Mozart. I kept falling asleep. Too many pages of deaf Raphael, not like his Coast to Coast (1999). Bundles of facts with no suspense.” “Not all of it.” “Of course not. It springs to life for long stretches. And passages rise up in dancing screenplay format. Then we get buried in talk again. I had to read the first ten pages twice to get all the characters straight. Two brothers, Stanley and Sidney. Stanley’s a professor who teaches film. Sidney produces films. They’re sons of a retired garment maker. Or are they? What about the black man their father treats like a son?” “This strives for satire on film deconstructionists?” “Yeah, but it’s not too funny. And the final scene with the brothers trying to get a grip on their origins. I felt him making it up as he went along.” “Well, how about the nine stories?” “Hopeful little firecrackers that hiss and pop but never explode. Most written for BBC Radio. Even here detail jams up. Most tell of greedy film folk and are not meant to change your life. Most will be lost on future readers and require more footnotes than Dante.” “Which did you like best?” “The last, ‘Son of Enoch,’ which told of a Somerset Maugham–like figure who wants to (not) write a career-capping phantom novel like Capote’s Answered Prayers. The style’s too smart by half—but that’s the point, the forked tongue of literary folk.”

“Try not to be cruel.” “I loved Eyes Wide Shut.”

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-945774-49-4

Page Count: 187

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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