FLYING LEAP

The title is apt; this nimble debut collection of 23 stories takes a variety of chances, impressing by its audacity and originality. Budnitz, a Village Voice cartoonist whose fiction has appeared in literary quarterlies, seems a kind of homegrown surrealist, launching expeditions into strange terrain from such disarmingly mundane settings as back porches, hospital waiting rooms, and crowded city streets. ``Dog Days'' has to do with a man in a dog suit who takes up residence on the porch of a Middle American family, this after an unexplained disaster that has led to the gradual dissolution of society. In weird yet convincing fashion, the family—and particularly the young daughter—begin to treat the man, who offers a remarkable impersonation of a canine, as a dog. This leads to a ghastly ending when, pressed by hunger, the other members of the family suddenly realize that, in some parts of the world, people view dog as a delectable dish. ``Guilt'' offers a grimly funny take on family guilt, carrying filial neurosis to new levels of absurdity as a healthy young man is browbeaten by his two harridan aunts into donating his heart to his dying mother—having been assured by the doctors that he can live some time without one. In ``Directions,'' a variety of figures—a middle-aged couple going to the theater, a man who's been told that he has a fatal disease, a young woman apparently haunted by a collapsed affair, two tough- talking hustlers planning a score—get lost in the city and end up seeking guidance in a dusty shop where maps are sold and, apparently, the deity works behind the counter. Each of the characters gets the help he or she deserves. In ``Burned,'' a young couple are, quite literally, consumed by their passion. Throughout, Budnitz's wry, conversational tone is nicely leavened by precise lyrical passages. A good mix, overall, of the fantastic and mordantly funny.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18097-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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