THE SPERM DONOR'S DAUGHTER

AND OTHER TALES OF MODERN FAMILY

A novella and five stories by a stylist who takes to a fare- thee-well Virginia Woolf's idea that women deserve their own sort of sentence and subject matter—those that don't march to a male rhythm—and their own moody, subliminal subject matter. In the surreal expressionism of Trueblood's debut collection, sense does indeed go up into vapor, sometimes. But this is the kind of crosswired writing that at the very least leads to somewhere new and never rolls dully down the groove of good sensible storytelling in little sermonizing sentences. The standout is the 100-page title piece, whose notably clearer style puts to shame the remaining lesser stories, which morph awkwardly like a batch of polliwogs into would-be frog princes. Jessie, 20 and pregnant, finds that her lesbian mother has been fibbing to her for all of her life: Her father didn't die in battle before Jessie was born. Instead, she's the product of artificial insemination by a med student sperm-donor who received the grand sum of 40 dollars for his bodily fluid. Jessie quickly spots her father in a class yearbook, tracks him down, breaks into his summer cabin, and lives there for a week on her own. Then she phones him, without revealing her identity, and gets an appointment to have her pregnancy checked over. Meanwhile, Nigel, the 40-year-old who got Jessie with child and then split, comes to visit her mom at the motel she manages and tries to straighten things out—in a scene that erupts with wisdom about who is responsible for what in a pregnancy. The climax is the snappish dialogue visited by Jessie upon her surprised biological father. As for the shorter stories, they show family life geysering in images summoned from the collective unconscious. Synaesthetic prose, all roses crushed with daisies, and not for the fainthearted.

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-57962-006-X

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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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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