PASSIONS

The seventh collection of Singer's short stories, again centered on the lives of Yiddish-speaking Polish Jews in Europe and the Americas before and after the holocaust—but here the "whims and passions" which destroy, illuminate, and possess a life, often slip into a supernatural dimension. "Everything can become a passion—even serving God." There are demonic appearances: two witch-like sisters, oddly complementary in temperament, lie in silence as an Evil One approaches their lover in the night; a monstrous, ugly schoolgirl, mad with desire, takes the place of one man's beautiful, selfish dead wife; there is even a howling heifer which echoes the yearning within the heart of a young man. In "Old Love" an elderly man recaptures desire while the woman he would marry commits suicide to join her dead husband—and her death leaves a rich, sensuous sadness and a wonder about why a man is born and why he dies. In "A Sabbath in Portugal" the narrator, invited to a home of Marranos (Jews forced to convert to Christianity), is flooded with remembered Sabbath peace and reunited with a dead beloved. "The Pair" tells of two brilliant but demented sojourners who live within each other's outsized image. Through the twenty stories Singer continues to evolve his characters with the sustained scrutiny of kinship and a candlelit intimacy. Physical presences, speech and circumstances flicker into being as sharply as that cosmic instant in each tale—when a suprareality abruptly becomes as real as a Miami balcony or a winter road in rural Poland. Many of these stories have appeared in the New Yorker.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 1975

ISBN: 0374529116

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1975

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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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