If it’s true that amateurs borrow and professionals steal, when McManus begins a truly larcenous assault on those he...

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STOP BREAKIN DOWN

STORIES

Now and then comes a first book by a writer so young and possessed of unique voice and vision, his promise seems unlimited—that, despite its evident poise and skill, is unfortunately not the case with this highly derivative debut collection.

Of the 15 stories here, only two or three have any staying power. “Sleep on Stones,” about a man who plants 83 seedlings of the indestructible weed kudzu around the house of the woman who jilted him, has the potential to rise into fascinating metaphor, with kudzu serving as analogue for obsessive, possessive love. Or the potential to rise into high hilarity. It does neither. The 22-year-old McManus appears too obsessed with control to let his prose fly. And if these uniformly bleak stories are any indication, he has little inclination toward humor. The collection traces the periphery of the social order: a man hires himself out to be chained on the first floor of a house in the Salt Flats of Utah over a methamphetamine lab he never sees (“Desert”); a drug dealer comes to realize that Bruce, who seems to share his survivalist, white supremacist views, is actually a narc (“What I Remember about the Cold War”); a college student with something approximating agoraphobia spends his student loans to leave school and camp out alone on an abandoned copper strip-mine (“Gegenschein”). McManus’s treatment of these dramas is as ineffectual as the lives of those he chronicles; few of the stories cohere with any sort of frisson of insight for either character or reader. “The Feed Zone,” about a bicyclist’s obsession with winning and revenge, takes place during a grueling race, yet despite the author’s almost encyclopedic knowledge of bike racing, only the briefest of moments ever convey the rider’s passion or exhaustion. Much here reads as if McManus cannot quite decide whether he wants to be Cormac McCarthy, Denis Johnson, George Saunders, William Faulkner—or whoever he’s mimicking at any given moment.

If it’s true that amateurs borrow and professionals steal, when McManus begins a truly larcenous assault on those he admires, he’s in for a promising career.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-26278-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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