The random adventures of life stitched together and explained with unconventional devices—that both do and don’t work.

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COUNTRY OF COLD

STORIES OF SEX AND DEATH

Thirteen loosely connected stories of rural Canada less about sex and death than about everything else.

The Manitoba-born Patterson (a memoir, The Water In Between, 2000) often delivers miniature essays amid his stories on subjects as far-ranging as emperor penguins and the utilitarian aesthetics of rope, while a consistent theme is the emotional cabin fever that’s as much a result of the landscape of the title as it is of a standard and familiar domesticity. The people here are as likely to reach out to others as they are to turn on one another. “Gabriella: Parts One and Two” is about an ex-soldier who finds himself sharing an apartment with two Spanish women—in a story that aspires to realism by going nowhere. “Saw Marks” is the frailest of plot adumbrations hung on a piece of seemingly straight nonfiction about man’s prehistory in the Serengeti. In “The Perseid Shower,” a boy’s generalized disappointment with his father finds its focus in dad’s preoccupation with incinerator drums, model airplanes, and the yearly meteor shower. And “Insomnia, Infidelity, and the Leopard Seal” is a lesson on mood disorders as manifested in a character’s sleep deprivation—and before it cures our insomnia we’re sure to find out what happens to those emperor penguins. Patterson’s attempt to tie his pieces together by ending each with “This was in 1980” or “This was in 2004,” etc., gives a feeling that each story amounts to a kind of journal entry: the connected-story premise disconnects, and one wishes that Patterson’s talent for disparate narrative voices were hung on a strategy less flimsy. Still, sometimes the static voice of essay comes to stand perfectly for these people and this place: “A static structure bears perpendicular surfaces well. The column reliably supports loads only when vertical and straight; when gravity is the only antagonist, flat continuous planes at right angles to one another . . . .”

The random adventures of life stitched together and explained with unconventional devices—that both do and don’t work.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50627-9

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2002

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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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