A superlative display of a great writer’s wares. Absolutely essential.

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BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN

TWENTY-FIVE STORIES

Unrequited or lost love, unrealized dreams and bizarre experiences that unfold into deeper mysteries, in 25 stories drawn from the prominent Japanese writer’s entire career.

A handful seem too thinly developed to make an impression: memories of high school and youth heightened by a pop song’s imagery (“The 1963/1982 Girl from Ipanema”); a satire on rampant commercialism and consumer gullibility (“The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes”); an obsessive daily routine through which a lonely bachelor avoids “getting caught up in other people’s messes” (“The Year of Spaghetti”). But more often than not, Murakami’s matchless gift for making the unconventional and even the surreal inviting and gratifying creates hard little narrative gems. In the beautiful title story, a young man’s paternalistic relationship with his ingenuous cousin (who has sustained permanent hearing loss) becomes the avenue to a more intense awareness of both others’ sufferings and his own alienated state. A nightwatchman sees his doppelgänger in “The Mirror” (which isn’t there, as he very well knows), and understands that he has somehow failed or antagonized his essential self. The vacationing narrator of “Hunting Knife” experiences several odd encounters at a tourist hotel, climaxing in a conversation with a wheelchair-bound young man whose possession of the title object amounts to a silent, secret rebellion against his fate. Successive images of loss or regret or alienation are dramatized in brisk sentences that decline to offer rational explanations, yet tease us with the manifold implications of things left unsaid. Murakami’s well-known love of American jazz and nostalgic fascination with the 1960s sound recurring themes, and he’s often present, under his own name or as “the writer.” These techniques work to perfection in a virtuosic exploration of the phenomenon of coincidence (“Chance Traveler”) and a searching Kafkaesque parable about disappearance, loss and coping (“Where I’m Likely to Find It”).

A superlative display of a great writer’s wares. Absolutely essential.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-4461-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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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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