Marvels of craft and insight.

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CLOTHED, FEMALE FIGURE

First collection by a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree and author of Garner (2005), a finalist for the Los Angeles Times' Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction.

Not much happens in these stories—not on the surface, anyway. There’s little in the way of dialogue. Allio tells more than she shows. They succeed, though, because Allio’s protagonists are obsessively observant. A Russian émigré working as a nanny re-examines her own life in the light of minutely confessional letters she receives from a former charge. The attempt to understand her best friend’s death subsumes one woman’s whole existence. A new mother, excruciatingly aware of the intricacies of class and the conflicting demands of gender, “knows she’s privileged to be a housewife looking down (from above) on a housewife.” For Allio’s protagonists, hypervigilance is a necessary condition of survival—because of near-crippling social anxiety, because they’ve been critically wounded by loss, or because they’re enduring an awful combination of the two. “The Other Woman” is exemplary. The daughter of a female university janitor who moonlights as a sociologist, Swan can’t escape the jaded worldview bequeathed to her by an amateur social scientist and lifelong hard-ass. For example, this, at a party honoring Swan’s mother-in-law, "the famous feminist": “I heard her bray above the usual modulations and I thought, Alex has spent her career practicing laughing louder than any man in academia.” Cancer does little to soften Swan’s mother, but it eats at Swan, and some of the story’s most finely wrought passages are Swan’s attempts to describe her fear and, ultimately, her grief. Swan’s voice is so real, her observations about class and race and living and dying so very spot-on, that it will likely take the reader some time to notice that “The Other Woman” follows, in its perfect inevitability, the shape of a fairy tale.

Marvels of craft and insight.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941088-09-8

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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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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