RADIANCE

TEN STORIES

paper 0-8142-0780-4 A second collection from English professor (U. of Mass.) and critic Clayton, the first winner of the Sandstone Prize for Short Fiction. Clayton’s new volume is, in many ways, a maturing of the concerns of his previous collection. As in Bodies of the Rich (1984), he focuses on the minutiae of daily life as a reflection of the ways in which his intelligent, middle-class protagonists express and experience loss. In —Radiance,— the protagonists are almost all Jews, assimilated to varying degrees but aware of and generally comfortable with their ethnic/religious identity. What they aren—t comfortable with is their lives—marriage as an act of settling for less, marriages that are failing or have long since dissolved, friends and family who die, parents who commit suicide. For several of his low-key heroes—in “Glory,” “Open-Heart Surgery,” and the most fully realized piece here, “The Man Who Could See Radiance”—coping with loss takes the form of a sort of magic realist device in which people see and feel beyond their senses, becoming aware of a larger presence that may be understood as having a religious significance. The use of this device in three stories out of only ten, though, makes for a certain repetitiveness. Two tales, “Muscles” and “Time Exposure,” about episodes in an unhappy marriage that involves the husband’s domineering brother—all as experienced by the couple’s son—have the feeling of sketches for a novel-in-progress; they—re affecting but seem unfinished. Still, Clayton’s best, “Talking to Charlie” and “History Lessons,” have a poignance that comes from an intense sensitivity to the quiet suffering that most often goes unexpressed in the rush of daily life. Uneven but distinctive short fiction from an author with a genuine gift.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8142-0779-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1998

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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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