Another excellent Appel collection of intelligent, humanistic, and witty stories that bite.

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THE AMAZING MR. MORALITY

STORIES

These short stories and a novella explore, with Appel’s (Millard Salter’s Last Day, 2017, etc.) trademark dark humor, contemporary life and its ethical dilemmas.

As in his previous, fine collections, the author draws on his experiences as a physician, attorney, and bioethicist to inform these tales. Questions of right and wrong play out in familiar settings, usually suburban, and they seldom offer easy answers. The first story, “The Children’s Lottery,” crosses Jonathan Swift’s essay “A Modest Proposal” with Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery.” A third-grade teacher, Oriana Hapley, receives notice that in three days, a registered pedophile will visit her classroom and choose one child. Oriana is upset, hoping very much that her favorite student won’t be chosen—but she feels that allowing pedophiles “a few children for their collective use” is safer and fairer for everyone: pedophiles no longer need to kidnap and murder, she thinks, and the lottery children are said to be resilient. Appel presents this horrific scenario with a straight face, making it all the more stinging as a satire of seemingly rational solutions for complex social problems. All the stories here are well-observed, combining poignancy with often darkly shaded humor, but the title piece is particularly fine in exploring Appel’s concerns. In it, Ted Grossbard, a psychiatrist, returns to his childhood home to clean it out after his hoarder mother’s death. He agrees to write an ethical advice column for a local newspaper owned by his longtime (and married) crush, Erica Sucram. A rival columnist, Lester Findlay, who’s also a con man who cheated Grossbard’s mother, steals his ideas; unfortunately, “run-of-the-mill ethical dilemmas” can’t be copyrighted. In disgust, Grossbard advises letter writers to do exactly as they please, making his column extremely popular—as well as easier to write. Later, he decides to burn down the man’s ratty office and frame Erica’s husband. The illicit plan’s careful, if not entirely successful, execution is entertaining, putting readers in an engagingly complicit position: just like the town, they get to enjoy Grossbard’s ethical dereliction. After all, Grossbard concludes, “being right wasn’t everything.”

Another excellent Appel collection of intelligent, humanistic, and witty stories that bite.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-946684-04-2

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Vandalia Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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