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SHORT STORIES

Six glum stories of brutality laced with erotica make up Valdés’s first collection to appear in English.

The publicity claim that Valdés, a former Mexico City dentist, penned short stories while waiting for patients’ anesthesia to take effect may explain these relentlessly numbing tales. The language (or translation?) is plodding and cliché-riddled and the stories are pulp dressed as allegory. In the overlong title story, two writers, the narrator Javier and his girlfriend, Ana Laura, rent a century-old house in the mountains. In the attic, Ana Laura discovers drawings indicating that there is a hidden cellar beneath the kitchen. Prodded by disturbing identical dreams, the couple access the cellar through an outside well. In an underground chamber, they discover the desiccated corpses of the original owner, Bernabeu, and his wife. There’s also a treasure cache, which the narrator must kill for. Moral? Corruption is its own reward. In “Neighbors,” the strongest of the six, the virtuous Lotzano family, including daughters Purísima and Virgen and son Fidel, buy a condo not knowing that Mephistopheles lives upstairs in the persons of con-man Señor Casquivan, his rakish and drug-dealing sons, siren daughter and slutty mistress. With nary a Faustian struggle, the Lotzanos succumb. Devil’s bargains are not for amateurs. Call girl “Cornelia” is recruited by client Federico to cure his brother’s alcoholism. Since Federico acts out of selfless, if misguided, motives, his comeuppance at the end seems unfair. The motto of “Beat me to Death” is “live by the sword, die by”—krate, switchblades, pistols. “Flidia” is kidnapped by Tornillo, who can’t decide if he wants to get back at her for ignoring him at parties or for being the best lover she ever had. The closing innocuous vignette about rigorous pre-date screening in a crazed Catholic family’s parlor is a welcome relief.

Rather painful.

Pub Date: June 6, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-8646-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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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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