THE CARDIFF TEAM

Readers familiar with Davenport's cerebral fictions (A Table of Green Fields, 1993, etc.) will find more of the same in his latest collection: a handful of Poundian collages that burst with intellect, and then some tiresome studies in higher pederasty. The former group includes another story based on incidents in the life of Kafka. In ``The Messengers,'' he roams a nudist health spa and contemplates God and redemption. A similar extrapolation from intellectual history drives ``Dinner at the Bank of England,'' in which Davenport imagines the conversation between George Santayana, the aphoristic philosopher from Harvard, and his host, a captain in the Royal Guard, a figure out of Kipling. ``Veranda Hung with Wisteria'' captures in a single paragraph the moment when Poe discovers the essence of Chinese poetry. In ``Home,'' Davenport channels Defoe, in the voice of Crusoe returning to his island after a short voyage in his self-made boat. The crosscut dialogue of ``Boys Smell Like Oranges'' juxtaposes soccer players in a Parisian park with the conversation of LÇvy-Bruhl and the ethnographer Leenhardt, whose trip to New Caledonia undermined his missionary zeal with anthropological relativism. The remaining stories all draw on Davenport's tiresome obsession with uncircumcised boys, all sexually liberated, and frolicsome in a healthy, clean, Scandinavian sort of way. In ``The Meadow Lark,'' boyish innocence leads to exploring the taste of one's sperm. In ``Concert Champetre in D Minor,'' forward-thinking parents approve of their boys' horseplay, the naked posters of adolescent boys on their walls, and their incessant masturbation. The longest narrative, the title story, set in the Parisian demimonde of two sexually liberated women with two young children, is a study in ``urban anthropology, anarchy, and sex.'' Inspired by a painting of Delaunay's, the world of football, engineering, and flight serves as a backdrop to more groping, licking, sniffing, etc. Davenport's sophisticated narratives, clever, bristling with esoteric allusions, obscure the leerings of a dirty old man and the cant of polymorphous perversity.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 1996

ISBN: 0-8112-1335-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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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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