Ferris has mastered a kind of fictional sucker punch, and he’ll get you every time.

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THE DINNER PARTY

Grimly humorous urban morality tales of men behaving badly and marriages on the rocks.

In a collection of 11 previously published short stories, six of which appeared in the New Yorker, Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, 2014, etc.) continues the trick of fitting a bleak moral vision into what feels like the setup for a comedy. In the title story, a nasty husband who thinks he knows exactly how his boring evening will play out gets a big surprise from his dinner guests. Similar comeuppance is visited on the protagonist of “A Night Out,” whose attempts to hide his serial cheating from his wife are derailed permanently. Both stories unfold as if they were farces, yet in the end they are tragedies. Another pair of stories feature the inner monologues of deeply neurotic protagonists, Woody Allen–esque guys who overthink their ways to disaster, whether among successful film people at a chic Hollywood party (“The Pilot”) or with a laconic mover at a storage unit (“A Fair Price”). While most of Ferris’ marriages are heading for divorce, he predicts continued heartbreak for a fatherless boy in “Ghost Town Choir” and depicts the long-term effects of broken families in “The Step Child.” “On, astonishingly, six other occasions, when his parents met other people, and fell in love, and married, and ordered the instant integration of two families’ lives, their laundry, and their lore (and, to often disastrous effect, their DNA)—the Morgans, followed by the Dinardos and the Teahans, on his mother’s side; the Winklows, the Andersons, and that insufferable Lee clan, on his father’s—he had…[wanted] nothing more than to return to the bunk bed in his first room, where all the linens and the wall shadows had been under a single, steady proprietorship.”

Ferris has mastered a kind of fictional sucker punch, and he’ll get you every time.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-46595-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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