THE ONE-ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE

STORIES ABOUT THE BOYS

The essence of American boys' practicality, perversity, and sweetness memorably captured in a hundred brief, reverberant tales of farm life, some reprinted from an earlier collection by poet Heynen (You Know What is Right, 1985). Divided into six parts, Heynen's stories catalogue the daily brutality and beauty that shape the character of ``the boys,'' five or so brothers and their friends roaming on their fathers' (``the men's'') hog and corn farms in some unspecified midwestern state. They help birth calves—saving the life of a heifer and her calf by cutting up a second unborn calf in utero and removing it, piece by piece, to free the first—and rescue dogs, whose tails they chop off in an effort to make the motley pups acceptable to their fathers. They steal a watermelon from a town woman's garden (``Gotcha'') and blame the man who sneaks up on them and turns them in: ``Good people don't crawl on their hands and knees through the tomatoes to catch boys stealing.'' In ``Dancing with Chickens,'' they sneak into the coops in the early morning and clap softly until the chickens start to follow the beat; then the boys dance with the chickens until ``they got dizzy or heard someone coming. They didn't want anyone to see them doing this. Dancing with chickens was the only dancing the boys ever did. How would someone watching know...they weren't just following?'' And in ``The Grandfather,'' the boys shoot a mourning dove whose cooing is preventing their well-loved cancer-stricken grandfather from resting and ``brought the dead bird inside and held it up for their grandfather. They extended their arms toward him, each of them holding part of the birds' wings between his fingers, so he could see that this gift was from all of them.'' The boys form a perfect chorus of cruelty and kindness—and Heynen is a Hemingway of farm life. Exquisite.

Pub Date: June 3, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-41786-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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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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