Jane Austen might have laughed at Welsh behind her parasol, but wouldn’t have let him into the parlor. Readers who are...

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IF YOU LIKED SCHOOL, YOU’LL LOVE WORK

The Scottish provocateur best-known for his ebulliently racy novels (The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, 2007, etc.) is at it again, in a new collection of four stories and a short novel.

The Welsh we all know and tolerate is loudly displayed in the rambling title story, in which Scots expatriate Mickey Baker, who’s running a pub in the Canary Islands, preys on his well-endowed barmaid, dodges his vengeful ex-wife and frets over the frequent presences of two sinister Spaniards who appear to be planning a mob hit. The humor is engulfed in semi-intelligible Scots dialect, but Welsh’s admirers probably won’t mind. Elsewhere, three young Chicago women—self-described as Desperate Obsessive Girl Snobs (DOGS)—natter on about no-good men, while one of them obsesses over the Korean chef who lives upstairs—especially when her real dog disappears (“The DOGS of Lincoln Park”). Welsh channels Sunset Boulevard in the fitfully involving tale of a would-be screenwriter who discovers, while researching the life of a famed indie-film director, how much he has in common with the latter’s grotesque megalomaniac widow Yolanda (“Miss Arizona”). Also set in the United States, “Rattlesnakes” is really only an extended dirty joke detailing the sexual misunderstandings and violence that ensue after one of the title reptiles bites a stoned male festival-goer you-know-where, requiring that the poison be sucked out from…well, you-know-where. It’s awful, even by Welsh’s ever-diminishing standards. Somewhat better, because it’s set in a world Welsh knows intimately, is the novella Kingdom of Fife, about unemployed DJ Jason King’s farcical pursuit of nubile equestriennes, his R-rated fulminations amusingly counterpointed by the urbane ravings of Jason’s irascible dad, a lifelong socialist who loves “gangsta” rap. Much more of this would have been far better than any of the briefer stories.

Jane Austen might have laughed at Welsh behind her parasol, but wouldn’t have let him into the parlor. Readers who are getting tired of the same old shite may likewise be getting ready to show him the door.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-393-33077-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2007

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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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