CHANGES AND DREAMS

A second collection (after The Medlar Tree—not reviewed) of 13 carefully crafted stories from Beagan, a Welsh poet and writer, offers gentle evocations of time and place but seems finally rather bland. Set mostly in Wales, the pieces here are contemporary in their concerns and struggles—divorced women, children stalked by a molester—but are also often suffused with a sense of an older time, a time when druids kept the sacred shrines, life was lived close to the land, and children spent their lives largely out of doors, exploring the countryside. Two of the more notable tales are ``Glut,'' in which a no-nonsense wife and mother, learning of her husband's infidelity with a wealthy neighbor (whose bumper plum crop the wife has frugally made into jam), must struggle to rebuild her domestic kingdom; and ``Snatches of Guilty Time,'' in which a woman recently widowed attends a creative-writing course on the island of Anglesey (``the last bastion of the druids'') and finds that her imaginative appreciation of the island's old powers to heal and evoke love allow her finally to accept her husband's death. Other notables concern a child's increasingly violent encounters with a molester (``Green Eggs and Larches''); the life of a divorced woman, ``old enough now not to want winter,'' who teaches literature in a small town, an activity she describes while ruefully recalling the past and anticipating her evening meeting with a new lover, a very correct middle-aged man who quotes Donne (``Women of a Certain Age''); and a young woman who discovers the truth about her dead father when she attends her mother's second wedding (``The Gingerbread House''). In the title story, a grandmother, seeing her first lover and childhood playmate again, recalls the past, her disastrous marriage, and fantasizes about what might have been. Tales of loss and desperation unfortunately too pallid to resonate fully.

Pub Date: May 22, 1997

ISBN: 1-85411-173-6

Page Count: 132

Publisher: Dufour

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1997

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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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