This amusingly offbeat collection treats us to an unusual array of characters as if it were offering up a plate of clever...

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AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE

STORIES

The wives in these guffaw-out-loud short stories by novelist Ellis (The Turning Book: What Curiosity Kills, 2010, etc.) are a wonderfully wacky crew.

At first glance, the women in this pointedly peculiar collection may seem like familiar characters—jealous wives, inconsiderate neighbors, procrastinating writers—yet, often, it’s not long before they and their stories build from a chug to a mad hurtle, take a sharp turn in an unexpected direction, and careen completely and crazily off the rails. In “The Wainscoting War,” two neighbors correspond about their shared vestibule, and over the course of a handful of emails, build from “Thank you for the welcome gift basket you left outside our apartment door” to a high-stakes face-off in a common hallway at high noon. In “The Fitter,” one of the book’s sweeter, gentler stories, the wife of a small-town Georgia man with a “pilgrimage-worthy” gift for fitting women with the perfect bra—“part good old boy, part miracle worker”—reluctantly releases him to the woman she suspects will replace her after she succumbs to the illness that has rid her of her own “body meant for tight sweaters.” In “Dead Doormen,” a woman who initially appears to be a perfectly devoted housewife, catering to her husband’s needs in the vast Manhattan prewar penthouse apartment left to him by his mother, slowly comes into focus as something significantly more sinister. The 12 stories here cheekily tackle subjects ranging from neighborhood book clubs to reality TV shows, and while a few of them feel, sadly, like filler, breaking up the madcap momentum, on the whole, they are deliciously dark and deliriously deranged.

This amusingly offbeat collection treats us to an unusual array of characters as if it were offering up a plate of clever canapes. Maybe just don’t try to devour them all at once.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-54103-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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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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