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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A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

THE HIDDEN GIRL AND OTHER STORIES

Science fiction author (The Wall of Storms, 2016) and translator (The Redemption of Time, Baoshu, 2019) Liu’s short stories explore the nature of identity, consciousness, and autonomy in hostile and chaotic worlds.

Liu deftly and compassionately draws connections between a genetically altered girl struggling to reconcile her human and alien sides and 20th-century Chinese young men who admire aspects of Western culture even as they confront its xenophobia (“Ghost Days”). A poor salvager on a distant planet learns to channel a revolutionary spirit through her alter ego of a rabbit (“Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard”). In “Byzantine Empathy,” a passionate hacktivist attempts to upend charitable giving through blockchain and VR technology even as her college roommate, an executive at a major nonprofit, fights to co-opt the process, a struggle which asks the question of whether pure empathy is possible—or even desired—in our complex geopolitical structure. Much of the collection is taken up by a series of overlapping and somewhat repetitive stories about the singularity, in which human minds are scanned and uploaded to servers, establishing an immortal existence in virtuality, a concept which many previous SF authors have already explored exhaustively. (Liu also never explains how an Earth that is rapidly becoming depleted of vital resources somehow manages to indefinitely power servers capable of supporting 300 billion digital lives.) However, one of those stories exhibits undoubted poignance in its depiction of a father who stubbornly clings to a flesh-and-blood existence for himself and his loved ones in the rotting remains of human society years after most people have uploaded themselves (“Staying Behind”). There is also some charm in the title tale, a fantasy stand-alone concerning a young woman snatched from her home and trained as a supernaturally powered assassin who retains a stubborn desire to seek her own path in life.

A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982134-03-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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