A vigorous, vibrant cluster of female-centered tales both captivating and immensely gratifying.

THE CARVING

CELEBRATING WOMANHOOD THROUGH STORIES AND SKITS

An author, entrepreneur, and linguist offers a collection of 13 female-narrated stories and skits featuring women of various ages, situations, and lifestyles.

The book leads off with one of the most impressive entries, “Brings on the Anxiety,” an actual quote from the aging lips of Rosella, a feisty, “illiterate southern lady” and former maid to a family that has dwindled in size over the years. It’s her birthday, and the grown children she previously cared for have arrived to help her celebrate. The tale is just a few pages in length but manages to convey characterization, mood, history, generational affection, and loss in an economy of swift, emotive prose. The placement of this story is key and becomes emblematic for the remainder of the enticing, well-rounded collection by White (The Rise of Dirck Becker, 2016, etc.). Female solidarity and friendship are a common theme coursing through the volume. Often, early childhood memories and bonds formed between kids become prognosticators for the adulthood years, as with the girl who meets and connects with a boy in a fifth grade drama class in “Licorice.” Though their link is fleeting, it marks a lifelong reminder for the narrator about the power of nondenominational, unconditional love. Still, not all interactions in these pages are friendly ones; some start off beautifully but sour or fester. Associations with the opposite sex are represented through cautionary tales like “Chopin’s Handkerchief,” in which a woman becomes infatuated with a former Italian language lab assistant from her college days in the 1980s only to discover his mental instability igniting a deep-seated fear she never realized she’d harbored. While this story generates a modest amount of suspense, it resists taking the audience to the darkest edges of obsession and perilous pursuit, as readers will expect, and, instead, concludes with notes of mystery and personal contentment. The collection’s emotional range is wide reaching, from the sadness of illness buffered by faith in “Send Us Help...Please” to the spicy hilarity of “Bon Appétit,” which finds a restless wife home alone during her husband’s lengthy business trip. The spirited narrative chronicles each day as it passes while the woman, a book designer, becomes more and more desperate and thirsty for human interaction, particularly from men. Her interior monologue peppered with sexual fantasies becomes laugh-out-loud funny by Day 5, when the randy wife is more than “ready to jump into the arms of any one of the guys I pass on the sidewalk.” On the opposite side of the spectrum, the title story, a melancholy affair, effectively explores themes of loss and disillusionment, as does the volume’s longest tale, “Don’t Push My Buttons.” Though they add variety, the two theatrical skits included lack the vitality and descriptive fullness of the stories surrounding them. Ultimately, this assemblage succeeds as a cohesive work of literary art, resulting in an addictive reading experience ideal for women eager for a book representative of the female experience as well as anyone who prefers the condensed, brisk rise and fall of short stories.

A vigorous, vibrant cluster of female-centered tales both captivating and immensely gratifying.

Pub Date: May 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5320-4893-7

Page Count: 174

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more