Metcalf applies wit, humor, and fine writing to themes of friendship, culture, commitment, and integrity—and all the petty...

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THE MUSEUM AT THE END OF THE WORLD

These four related fictions follow a British boy’s coming-of-age and his older self enduring a world that rarely lives up to his standards.

In the opening novella, Medals and Prizes, Robert Forde first appears in 1950s England at age 14 as he shares with his best friend a love of words, art, and jazz records. After university, Forde immigrates to Canada and turns to writing. He receives an Order of Canada medal the day he visits a fellow novelist suffering from Parkinson’s whose career Forde is asked to help revive. In the short story “Ceazer Salad,” Forde walks about Ottawa and rails at misused apostrophes and other abominations after his latest book is panned. The title story shows him with a travel group venting his spleen during a guided tour of Turkish cultural attractions. Both short stories also feature Forde’s wife, Sheila, and the combative affection of their conversation, recalling Nick and Nora Charles of Hammett’s Thin Man. Metcalf (An Aesthetic Underground, 2015, etc.), a highly regarded Canadian writer born in 1938 whose life resembles Forde’s, also brings to mind variously Wodehouse, Waugh, Kingsley Amis, and Kyril Bonfiglioli. The jewel of the collection is the other novella, Lives of the Poets, in which Forde plays willing ear as the granddaughter of a 19th-century poet reminisces over the course of a long slow day and night in page after page of marvelous dialogue, the two discovering their shared tastes for precision in language, forgotten rituals, obscure artifacts, and drinking.

Metcalf applies wit, humor, and fine writing to themes of friendship, culture, commitment, and integrity—and all the petty things in life that seek to quash them. This is a book that could restore anyone’s faith in the pleasure of reading.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-177196-107-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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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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