A near-perfect collection about the knots we tie ourselves into and the countless ways we intertwine in the pursuit of sex,...

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KNOTS

Formally playful, poignant, understated, and often acutely funny, Øyehaug's English-language debut teems with humanity.

In this collection of short—and short-short—stories, fluidly translated from the Norwegian by Dickson, Øyehaug swipes a deft finger through messy layers of human experience and inspects with a keen and generous eye the everyday tragedies, tender absurdities, and quiet joys of life. In the book's spectacular opener, "Nice and Mild," a man paralyzed by anxiety and indecision heads to IKEA for blinds for his son's room. As he talks himself out of the car, across the parking lot, and into the store, he thinks "this could be the start of a virtuous circle," the first step toward a new proactive self, the blinds "a lifeline that's been thrown to me from dry land as I flail and flounder in the waves." In "Small Knot," a son is tethered to his mother for life, and beyond, by an uncuttable umbilical cord in a delightfully morbid and literal rendering of familial bonds and their reverberations through the future. In "Deal," a girl's bicycle breaks shortly after she sets out to run away, and she misses the last ferry out of town. Stranded, she strikes a curious deal with a neighbor who has rescued her and is in need of a little rescuing himself. "Gold Pattern" is a melancholy in-coitus account of a vaguely coupled pair with intermittent and unequal passions, a heart-pricking tale of progressive loss and longing. And in “An Entire Family Disappears,” a grand-uncle rattles his family at a funeral by telling a tale of how easily they might not have come to exist, told in dramatic form with the story unfolding entirely in stage directions.

A near-perfect collection about the knots we tie ourselves into and the countless ways we intertwine in the pursuit of sex, love, compassion, and family.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-18167-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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