JAMES MASON AND THE WALK-IN CLOSET

Stories quietly celebrating the insights that middle-aged women, born too early for today's big careers, salvage from the wreckage of their lives. By the author of Is This What Other Women Feel Too? (1991), etc. Seese's women, usually in their late 40s or early 50s, went to college but learned nothing that prepared them for the rest of their lives. ``I am a receptionist,'' announces the narrator of the title novella. ``Another girl who paid the price of reading what I wanted for four years.'' The women also tend to be Catholic, were raised in blue-collar neighborhoods, and left home as soon as they could. The novella's narrator recalls a past that has led to a life of constant travel and many disappointments, assuaged only by watching reruns of James Mason movies. She recalls a botched abortion; a love affair with an Irish student; a friend who murdered her cold and unloving mother; a recent winter in Dublin when she had an affair with a priest and worked for an American homosexual. In notable pieces like ``the Polish Girl and the Black Musician,'' ``Hildegarde's Long Gloves,'' and ``Ashtrays,'' respectively, a young Polish-American artist from Detroit marries a black musician from St. Louis so that she ``can leave this factory town,'' although her courage is only a mask for desperation; a middle-aged woman tells her childhood friend that ``life is not a fashion statement,'' and then recalls the white gloves she stole as a child because she wanted to be like Hildegarde, ``who wore white gloves and sang in a voice that made [her] shiver''; and a divorced woman (``forty, not long separated and smoking so much'') leaves San Francisco for North Carolina, though she's still in love with her homosexual husband. Slender stories that resonate with wisdom and a wry understanding of the familiar angst of middle age for lonely women.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 1994

ISBN: 1-56478-040-6

Page Count: 121

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1993

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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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