DO THE WINDOWS OPEN?

STORIES

Hecht debuts with stories woven from seemingly uneventful threads of life that are made as funny, compelling, and rewarding as a reader ever could wish. The nine pieces' narrator is in her early 40s, married, childless, a sometime resident of New York City now living in East Hampton and summering in Nantucket. Such locales might suggest a white-glove elite, but this character is no such type. Money goes unmentioned, it's true (the husband is a university dean), but Hecht's invariably engaging person is far too timid, droll, and bumbling to be a mover or shaker of much of anything. In ``Perfect Vision'' (a slow start), she's certain that an optician is an ex- Nazi, while in the much finer title story her fear of driving leads her to ride the ``South Fork bus,'' an experience as richly peopled in its understated modern way as a ride down the river might once have been with Mark Twain. Hecht's heroine is a strict vegetarian (``I knew that the Swedes liked to commit suicide, and if this was their diet, maybe it was the reason'') and pursues a career in photography that most recently involves photographing ``seven doctors and their dogs,'' the most prominent doctor being the famous ``reproductive surgeon, Dr. Loquesto,'' who always yells, never opens windows (``A Lovely Day''), and performs a ``medical procedure'' on his photographer-patient (``I Couldn't See a Thing''), who's not about to reveal exactly what the surgery is, though hints may be hidden in the gorgeously intricate ``The Thrill Is Gone'' (looking for the source of ``My heart leaps up''), or in the melancholy ``Were the Ornaments Lovely?'' (meeting two strange brothers), or even in ``The World of Ideas,'' with its glance back to the promise of the last century (``But this was the new world. What kind of world was it? It was some other kind of world, and there was no escape''). Droll, intricate, hilarious, sad: a humane, serious, funny, altogether captivating voice.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-45201-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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