An inconsistent, but frequently luminous, debut.

ELEGIES FOR UNCANNY GIRLS

Ten stories that reveal the strangeness and beauty of female experience.

Rarely has a book’s title set readerly expectations as well as the title of Colville’s debut collection of short stories. “Elegies” recalls that form in poetry; “uncanny” points to psychology. And, indeed, Colville’s prose shines when it is at its most lyrical and most psychologically probing. But also like the stories here, when the words in the title are all put together, meaning can be elusive. In “Other Mothers,” the opening story, a new mother fights debilitating anxiety about her newborn’s safety: “I sneak to her crib and hold my finger under her nose to see if I can feel the push of air, but her nostrils are merely decorative! The whorl on the door of a seashell, two holes in a button.” One day, she runs into another mother in a local cafe whose hands detach at the wrists. This sums up Colville’s M.O.: in the midst of beautiful writing and psychological acuity, the writing makes fabulist moves that end up feeling secondary in the face of Colville’s clear strengths. In “Jill, or The Big Little Lady,” a woman who randomly changes size and shape pitches a movie about mermaids to two movie producers in LA. In “Audra,” a little girl befriends a possibly imaginary playmate who boosts her self-esteem. But the most affecting moments of the collection come when Colville is making more ordinary gestures. A budding writer fixates on how she’ll fashion a seduction by her writing teacher into a story in “Details,” while in “Winona,” a family comes unglued when the teenage girl at its heart begins to express her sexuality. Readers may not be quite sure why these girls are uncanny, but when Colville is at her best, we’ll believe whatever she tells us.

An inconsistent, but frequently luminous, debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-253-02429-9

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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