Stunning strength throughout. The literary world boasts silver-tongued Irishmen and moody regionalists aplenty, but Canty is...




Oregonian Canty proves once again that short fiction (A Stranger in This World, 1994, etc.) best showcases his eloquence of events, a quality more inimitable than beautiful word-whirling.

In novels such as Nine Below Zero (1999), Canty’s dancing sentence fragments tend to cramp up, as if the nature of a long work put too great a crunch on his skill. His stories relax, trim though they are, and without fail hook you firmly time and again. The characters are usually bottoming out, bashed by hard luck but not yet human trash. Well, mostly not trash, but even the trash is given the gift of irony that helps an utterly crushed man rise up smiling, as in the longest piece here, “Little Palaces,” about a wheelchair-bound man living with his dead wife’s twin sister. He can’t give up the van, his little palace, that he had restored after running off the road and killing his wife in it. In the perfect title story, first seen in The New Yorker, “the bride invited only people she had slept with.” Among the jilted are her lesbian lover and a male lover, who now go off boozing together. All the tales stand tall and invite rereading, but the standout is “Carolina Beach.” Its protagonist is a lawyer romancing the bald mother of two. Survivor of a double mastectomy, she now has perhaps six months to live and has built a hard shell against self-pity that he must break through to get her into bed. On a chilly beach walk, he holds her hand: “small and cold and full of bones.”

Stunning strength throughout. The literary world boasts silver-tongued Irishmen and moody regionalists aplenty, but Canty is in a class of his own.

Pub Date: April 17, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-49161-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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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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