With his strange cast of drunks, murderers, and the drug-addled, McManus fits comfortably into a tradition of Gothic...

FOX TOOTH HEART

STORIES

McManus shows a quirky originality in these nine stories as he focuses on the outré and bizarre doings of his off-center characters.

Along with creating a compelling cast, McManus shows himself a master of openings. “Elephant Sanctuary” begins with the following outlandish and compelling sentence: “The story of the creation of my elephant vampire songs begins on the December morning when I killed Aisling, heroine of our last album and my fiancée, in one Jaguar and fled Texas in another.” This sentence anticipates in miniature the unfolding of the rest of the tale as we learn that the con-man father of the songwriter narrator claims to have won an elephant sanctuary with a Dolly Parton (a nine-five combo) in Texas Hold 'em and the narrator has in fact murdered his fiancee. And these are not by any means the most oddball characters we meet in McManus’ stories. Another is Victor, in “Gainliness,” whose eccentricities include using needle-nosed pliers to pick his nose, swallowing toothpaste, and starting major journeys on his left foot. “The Ninety-Fifth Percentile” introduces a number of spoiled and privileged students at a Texas high school, all of whom have IQ scores in the 95th percentile. The story explores not only their sense of entitlement, but also their attitudes toward immigrants moving in on their territory (both geographical and intellectual), their commitment to fast cars and drugs du jour, and their explorations of both hetero- and homosexuality.

With his strange cast of drunks, murderers, and the drug-addled, McManus fits comfortably into a tradition of Gothic writing, adding his own—dare one say peculiar?—twists.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-941411-10-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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