Oates has been publishing short fiction for 40 years. Let's have a Best or Selected Stories, by all means. But, please, no...

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FAITHLESS

TALES OF TRANSGRESSION

Another (the 21st, already) ho-hum collection demonstrating both Oates's unceasing productivity and her inexplicable willingness to gather embarrassingly shoddy work together with handfuls of stories actually worth preserving.

For far too many of these slackly written "Tales of Transgression" revisit themes explored in earlier and better work ("We Were Worried About You" is yet another reworking of Oates's classic "First Views of the Enemy") or use material that seems to have been detached from recent novels like Zombie (1995) and Man Crazy (1997). The generic characters and their victims are familiar figures in the Oates canon, presented here with only slight variations. The "Lover," for instance, stalks the man who abandoned her; in "The Stalker," a victim of sexual violence becomes a neurasthenic paranoid; the protagonist of "Murder-Two," an idealistic defense attorney, surrenders to infatuation with her matricidal teenaged client; and the narrator of "A Manhattan Romance" clings to borderline-incestuous adoration of her suave "Daddy," a corrupt attorney who had used his child as a hostage before killing himself. Oates stretches farther still in "Tusk," which portrays a 13-year-old malcontent plotting a high-school killing spree, and "*In Copland,*" the overheated story of an investigative journalist's surreal experience of police violence. Only in the deftly structured "What Then, My Life?," in which the sources of an elderly woman's seeming "hatred" of her granddaughter are subtly revealed, and in the atmospheric title story, a skillfully extended anecdote about a mother's disappearance, do we glimpse the harshly realistic, spine-tingling writer Oates can be when she's at her best. But if an unknown writer had sent these stories around (17 of them were first published in magazines), the number rejected would have been high indeed.

Oates has been publishing short fiction for 40 years. Let's have a Best or Selected Stories, by all means. But, please, no more books like Faithless.

Pub Date: March 3, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-018525-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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