Keeble does well with the land, less well with people.

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NOCTURNAL AMERICA

Eight stories and one novella, linked more by place than theme.

The place is farming country outside Spokane, Wash., profiled in “The Fishers.” These small farmers are good neighbors, averse to gossip, resistant to change. Ed Erickson was typical, living through his kids, pained they wouldn’t want to succeed him. All this his widow Louise sees clearly. It’s an elegiac piece, not bad, but it lacks focus, like most of Keeble’s work, rambling off into a meditation on the struggle between fishers and porcupines. In “The Transmission,” Pete helps his Indian neighbor Louis, a trucker, with a balky thousand-pound transmission. The maneuvering distracts attention from the main event, the decision by Louis’s wife Bird to leave him and the wedge this drives between Louis and Pete. Louis pops up again in the best story, “I Could Love You (If I Wanted).” Here, Lola, a single parent, is caring for her dying mother while reluctantly fending off Louis, the consummate ladies’ man. Keeble keeps the focus on Lola’s ambivalence, and it pays off. Another recurring character is Jim Blood. We see him as a child in Saskatchewan in “Chickens,” then as a novice farmer in Washington in “The Chasm,” finally as an established landowner in the novella “Freeing the Apes,” which promises to be meaty; Jim’s neighbor, a female air force colonel, has been found dead. Foul play is suspected. But once again, we are distracted, this time by narrator Peter’s marital and other problems. It is also problematic that the violent climax, long building, occurs just offstage. In the title story, Fay Harper, a middle-aged widow with grown children, is heading to Alaska to scatter her husband’s ashes. She’s quit her job as a hospital nutritionist to work as a cook on an oil tanker—a decision Keeble describes merely as “driven by powerful obscurities.”

Keeble does well with the land, less well with people.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2006

ISBN: 0-8032-2777-9

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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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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