Undistinguished work, for the most part. But “Retribution” and “Liars” offer hopeful glimpses of the heights Fulton may be...

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RETRIBUTION

STORIES

A mixed-bag debut collection of ten stories and a novella, mostly concerned with midlife and identity crises, divorce, alcoholism, parental neglect, and adolescent forbearance and rebellion in fragmented Middle American households.

Many of these pieces are frustratingly slight, including “Rose” (an elderly widow’s memories of her timorous husband), “Iceland” (an American woman’s impulsive and pointless sexual adventure in Italy), and “First Sex” (an Eagle Scout math prodigy loses both his innocence and his convictions about his own decency and worth). Ex-spouses in flight from their responsibilities are contrasted with the infinitely more sentient children whom they keep disappointing (“The Troubled Dog,” “Stealing”); others exhibit deceit or incompetence that variously afflict innocent people (a young girl temporarily stricken with “white blindness” in “Visions”; a teenager who finds escape from his mother’s frailties in the “new, bad habits” that come all too easily to him in “Outlaws”). Three stories rise above the general level of mediocrity. “Braces” marshalls an abundance of skillfully selected detail in portraying a subdued 15-year-old “caught in the middle” of his father’s whiny futility and his mother’s recklessness. The novella “Retribution” slowly builds up a frighteningly convincing characterization of teenaged Rachel, whose gentle mother is slowly dying of cancer. Fulton deftly dramatizes the manner in which the presence of impending death—and the need to cheat it—breed in the confused girl an irrational “meanness” that strikes out violently, then, as suddenly and as cryptically, simply disappears. Best of all is “Liars,” about a teenager’s skiing trip with his divorced father and the latter’s smug girlfriend. It’s a moving story filled with surprising developments, in which the metaphor of downhill skiing beautifully suggests the core of carelessness and daring that the boy perceives in his father, cannot comprehend, yet blindly, inexplicably emulates.

Undistinguished work, for the most part. But “Retribution” and “Liars” offer hopeful glimpses of the heights Fulton may be capable of scaling.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-27680-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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