THE OLD GENTS

Yglesias's last novel, published by the same house that has recently issued the Break-In (p. 259) and a collection of the author's stories (see above). This gently droll valedictory is made up of the first-person musings of Germ†n Moran, an eightysomething novelist recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Moran, who has stopped writing except for daily jottings in a desk calendar, is trying to live out his remaining days with as much dignity as his three loving, prying sons—also writers—will allow him, when an encounter with an enchanting young neighbor suddenly convinces him that he must carry on for her sake. And so Moran finds himself competing romantically with his middle son and two of his neighbors for the attention of a woman 60 years his junior, while also searching for a miracle cure for his illness. Moran tells this story in the witty (if meandering) tone given him by Yglesias, warning the reader at the outset that ``if you stick with me, I shall stray.'' And stray he does, pausing to consider his roots in the Cuban-American section of Tampa, delivering several diatribes against the ex-wife he calls Fatso, and offering recollections of his old political struggles (the novel is particularly astute in its rendering of the lives and regrets of aging devotees of the '30s left). Eventually, though, the old man must face the reality of his situation, surrendering to age, if not to death, learning that even the miracle cure he has found won't stave off the inevitable forever. The final movement here feels severely truncated, as if death had crept up on the author before he had fully plotted the ending, but until those rushed last pages, this is a shrewdly written, bittersweet work. An unsatisfyingly abrupt ending can't dim the glow of the low-key pleasures to be had here.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: 1-55885-161-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Arte Público

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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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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