Mordant, humorous stories that display a fine understanding of the human condition.




Appel’s (The Cynic in Extremis: Poems, 2018, etc.) short story collection offers portraits of people experiencing new revelations.

In these eight poignant, insightful tales, award-winning author Appel—a physician, attorney, and bioethicist—continues to address many preoccupations that he’s explored in earlier works. One of his most prominent themes is the human tendency to alter the truth—often less to gain an advantage than to experience the sheer joy of invention. In the title story, Carlo, a VA hospital nurse, notes that he’s long been “fascinated by schemes and hoaxes”; when a patient goes missing (“We were short one lunatic”), he hatches a coverup plan, which he embroiders beyond necessity: “fabricating Dunham’s data—and pulling it off so effortlessly—was about as much fun as anything I’d done in years.” Several characters in other stories come to understand that human connection, like creativity, is a mysterious thing that can lead to unlikely attachments. In “Grappling,” Oriana Bingham, a wealthy young woman, insists on marrying Jeb Moran, a “gator grappler” who risked his life to save hers when she was 11; “A girl dreams that a man will put his life on the line for her,” she explains. Oriana stays loyal to Jeb, even though he’s crude, abusive, and drinks, but rejects Arthur Dobbins, a much more suitable man. Other stories similarly describe a loved one’s mystifying preference for someone unworthy. Illness, criminality, and broken lives or dreams appear in “Dyads,” “Embers,” and “Live Shells.” The hope of rescue, or at least comfort, underlies these tales, but the author shows how hope can only go so far in the face of sorrow, death, and bad decisions. Still, the stories are never morbid, as the author effectively balances them with humor and sharp observations about characters and settings. Some pieces have a surreal tinge, but generally, they hew closer to realism than Appel’s previous work.

Mordant, humorous stories that display a fine understanding of the human condition.

Pub Date: April 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62557-705-4

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Black Lawrence Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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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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