MARCOVALDO

OR THE SEASONS IN THE CITY

In their first English translation and US publication: 20 short sketches written in the early 1950s and mid-1960s, all featuring the hapless aspirations of Marcovaldo, a father, husband, and unskilled laborer in a northern Italian city. With sly wit and utter economy, Calvino satirizes the drabness of the impoverished 1950s, the hollowness of the "booming" 1960s—yet never settles for easy targets or sentimentality, much preferring the ambivalence of whimsy. Thus, Marcovaldo may be forever yearning for the simpler, pastoral pleasures—and Calvino sympathizes—but his dreamy quests almost always have an under-cutting, wry outcome. With "an eye ill-suited to city life," for instance, Marcovaldo is overjoyed to spy mushrooms sprouting on a city street ("something could still be expected of life, beyond the hourly wage. . . with inflation index"); but this bucolic miracle leads only to a stomach-pump at the local hospital. Likewise, Marcovaldo has little luck with schemes to enjoy the night air, to feast on roast woodcock, to adopt a rabbit, to get his fish direct from the river. Nor, on the other hand, do his attempts at entrepreneurship—offering wasp-sting treatments (for arthritis), collecting free detergent samples, turning ugly neighborhood billboards to economic advantage—work out much better. And sometimes the clash between the realities of Marcovaldo's life and the consumer-society around him result in surreal vignettes: a visit, with empty pockets, to a super-supermarket, filling up cart after cart with unbuyable items; a disoriented ramble through the dark city, looking for the right tram. . . but winding up on an India-bound airplane. Rich with implications about the social milieu, yet far more insistent on fable-like charm than any message: a gentle, small early-Calvino treat, shrewdly translated and agreeably packaged.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 1983

ISBN: 0156572044

Page Count: 132

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1983

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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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