Well-crafted and relentless. Women readers of a certain age and lifestyle will identify.

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BOYS KEEP BEING BORN

STORIES

A melancholy fragrance reminiscent of Edna O’Brien lingers over these 13 stories, depicting women in their 40s as they look back at their younger, 1960s-era selves with exhausted nostalgia.

Most of Frank’s narrators are solitary, in childless relationships, or solitary within their relationships. Telling someone else’s story, they frequently reveal their own fears and midlife angst. In the brittle, angry “Exhibit A,” a woman recalls her romantic obsession with a married man who for years resisted their mutual attraction. Watching as he falls for someone else and his marriage collapses, she finally recognizes what a creep he’s been all along. Ensconced in a comfortable relationship of her own, the narrator of “The Queen of Worldly Graces” tells of an acquaintance who leaves his ever-patient, slightly shaggy live-in girlfriend for a more glamorous Parisian. Identifying with the shunned mate, the narrator feels threatened until she acknowledges that neither she nor her lover are brave enough to forego the safety of fidelity. Of the three stories told from a male viewpoint, two are little more than hostile exercises (particularly the self-evidently titled “The Extraordinary Member of Carlos Artiga”), but the third, “The Guardian,” is a small masterpiece. Middle-aged Boyd learns that the legal secretary who showed him genuine kindness during his lonely childhood was his father’s mistress during the marriages to both Boyd’s mother and stepmother. Using a less hard-edged tone here, Frank reaches a new depth as she explores secrets and the inability of anyone to fully capture another’s experience. Another standout is the painfully lovely “The Sounds That Arrive in the Present.” Worn-down by stress and overwork, Belle receives physical therapy from a slightly younger woman whose tale of fearlessness that caused a fatal accident reminds Belle of her own youthful zest while preparing her to live more fully in her middle-aged present.

Well-crafted and relentless. Women readers of a certain age and lifestyle will identify.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8262-1355-3

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Univ. of Missouri

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2001

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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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