Eleven stories that possess restraint and edge: a powerful combination.

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PEOPLE I WANTED TO BE

STORIES

Elegantly unsettling fiction by Flannery O’Connor Award winner Ochsner (The Necessary Grace to Fall, 2002), who charts some strange goings-on within emigrant communities.

There’s a touch of the darkly magical in stories like “Articles of Faith.” Set on the Finnish-Karelian border, it shows three miscarried children coming to haunt the awkward, ten-year-old union of Russian Irina and Finnish Evin. The desire for a child haunts another couple’s relationship in “A Blessing.” Siberian expatriates Vera and Nikolai, now living in western Oregon, adopt a dog in the hopes it will teach them about caring for the children they plan to have. But Vera is suspicious of the unusual-looking Shura, who reminds her of the forsaken wilds of Siberia. After a windfall of riches suddenly arrives in their lives and she becomes pregnant, Vera insists on getting rid of the dog, whose pale eyes reflect a landscape “she’d spent her whole life trying to get away from.” Another aspect of Russia shadows the Czech street-worker who narrates “Signs and Markings.” He ponders his nation’s sad history of occupations (most recently by the Soviet Union) as he tells of his love for a politically correct nurse who already has a child and doesn’t want another. When she finally leaves him, he must surrender the notion that happiness is about procreation and embrace the unremarkable life within his reach. In the chilling “A Darkness Held,” sadistic Sister Clement has been pushed by her students down a metal staircase outside the school where she has taught for ages. Recovering alcoholic Imogene McCrary, at 38 still bearing psychic wounds the nun inflicted on her as a schoolgirl, agrees reluctantly to teach the class in her former teacher’s absence. Imogene’s young charges react to the bad news with a verbal shrug: “Is this going to be on the test? Because . . . we always talk about essential mysteries on Wednesdays.” Ochsner’s keen eye for the macabre is frequently evident here.

Eleven stories that possess restraint and edge: a powerful combination.

Pub Date: May 11, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-56372-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2005

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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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