Even more impressive than Russell's critically acclaimed novel.

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VAMPIRES IN THE LEMON GROVE

STORIES

A consistently arresting, frequently stunning collection of eight stories.

Though Russell enjoyed her breakthrough—both popular and critical—with her debut novel (Swamplandia!, 2011), she had earlier attracted notice with her short stories (St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, 2006). Here, she returns to that format with startling effect, reinforcing the uniqueness of her fiction, employing situations that are implausible, even outlandish, to illuminate the human condition. Or the vampire condition, as she does in the opening title story, where the ostensibly unthreatening narrator comes to term with immortality, love and loss, and his essential nature. Then there’s “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979,” about a 14-year-old boy’s sexual initiation during a summer in which he is so acutely self-conscious that he barely notices that his town has been invaded by sea gulls, “gulls grouped so thickly that from a distance they looked like snowbanks.” Perhaps the most ingenious of this inspired lot is “The New Veterans,” with a comparatively realistic setup that finds soldiers who are returning from battle given massages to reduce stress. In one particular relationship, the elaborately tattooed back of a young veteran provides a narrative all its own, one transformed by the narrative process of the massage. The interplay has profound implications for both the masseuse and her initially reluctant patient; both discover that “healing hurts sometimes.” The two shortest stories are also the slightest, though both reflect the seemingly boundless imagination of the author. “The Barn at the End of Our Term” finds a seemingly random group of former presidents in denial (at both their loss of power and the fact that they have somehow become horses), and “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating” presents the “Food Chain Games” as the ultimate spectator sport.  With the concluding “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis,” about a group of teenage bullies and an urban scarecrow, the fiction blurs all distinction between creative whimsy and moral imperative.

Even more impressive than Russell's critically acclaimed novel.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-95723-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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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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