These characters, along with others equally on edge, give voice to the ceaseless yearnings that—so Kane’s volume...

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BENDING HEAVEN

STORIES

Eleven downbeat stories, five published previously, from newcomer Kane: blues variations that form an insistent but eloquent study of faces of quiet desperation.

There are the drinkers: Sarah, first, in “Evidence of Old Repairs,” whose efforts to connect with her teenaged daughter while on a family holiday in London are complicated by the memories both have of Sarah’s rum-and-Coke afternoons at home; and then Shelley, in “Refuge,” an aging associate in a prominent Washington law firm, who attends the firm’s weekend retreat days after having sent her teenager away to live with his dad, no longer able to cope with him, and who binges her way through the pain. And there are the seekers: The mathematician in “The Arnold Proof,” at 46 close to the twilight of his career, close to cracking the proof of the notorious Riemann Hypothesis, but also closer than ever to cracking up when he has an epiphany in an interstate rest area; and the publicist in “How to Become a Publicist,” a midwestern girl lured by New York publishing, who quickly tires of the inanity of it all and applies to grad school. And then there are those for whom objects have assumed unnatural significance: Lena in “Ideas of Home, but Not the Thing Itself,” a newlywed who covets the furnishings of the Georgetown house she and her young husband are sitting; and the young boy in “First Sale,” faced with his mother’s determination to get rid of stuff after his father leaves them, but who cannot bear to part with a bottle of Maryland lake water he had scooped up at the end of a family vacation.

These characters, along with others equally on edge, give voice to the ceaseless yearnings that—so Kane’s volume suggests—preoccupy us almost from the cradle to the grave. Lovers of lighthearted fiction, fear to tread here.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-58243-206-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2002

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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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