Arresting in their otherworldly simplicity, Walsh’s stories are lonely but never sentimental; grief may haunt her prose, but...

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WORLDS FROM THE WORD'S END

Unsparingly observant and disconcertingly sharp, Walsh’s (Vertigo, 2016, etc.) latest short story collection is an eerily matter-of-fact chronicle of our own impending doom.

There is loss (literal, figurative) at the center of each of Walsh’s surprisingly playful stories, which read less like narratives—though they are—than like parables or prose poems: surreal in their elegance, too slippery and strange to fit into more conventional bounds. In the title story, a woman explains to a former lover why she won’t be writing him anymore: because there are literally no words. “Communication went out of fashion,” she writes, at “about the same time as we stopped speaking,” but then words, she considers, were always inadequate anyway, demanding more words to explain their damage. In “Two Secretaries,” a recent graduate working—very temporarily, she is sure—as a self-styled “clerical assistant” explains the rift between herself and a colleague, an actual secretary. “We may look alike,” she assures us, “but we are not.” In “Hauptbahnof,” a woman takes up indefinite residence in a Berlin train station, waiting for a person who is not waiting for her. Still, she is, like all of Walsh’s women, painstakingly practical in her delusion: the biggest problem with living in limbo in the station, she reflects, is the difficulty of recharging her phone. Also, perhaps, the price of water. “Exes,” which lasts less than a page, is a meditation on a fraught email signoff; in “Femme Maison,” a woman, now single, expands to fit the demands of her house, feeling, for the first time, both ownership of the space and debt to it.

Arresting in their otherworldly simplicity, Walsh’s stories are lonely but never sentimental; grief may haunt her prose, but it is as a fact and not a feeling. A singular reading experience that leaves a mark.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-911508-10-6

Page Count: 128

Publisher: & Other Stories

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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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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