THIS PLACE YOU RETURN TO IS HOME

A haunting debut collection of 11 stories by New Zealand novelist Gunn (Rain, 1995), most of them portraying unhappy families on the run. —It was a part of the country you forgot about until you were back in the middle of it.— From that opening line, Gunn makes her territory clear: the backwoods of New Zealand is the destination of most of her characters as they attempt to escape into the past. The usual protagonists are young mothers bailing out of bad marriages, like the heroine of —Not That Much to Go On,— who abandons her husband and takes her two daughters to live in her dead mother’s house in the countryside. Eventually, the children find their mother’s liberation as constricting as she found her marriage, and they become objects of pity for the locals as they fantasize about being reunited with their father in the city. The young couple of —Everyone is Sleeping— is just as malcontent: they go out to the country to visit the wife’s childhood home and suddenly find themselves overcome by an inexplicable dread. The young waitress of —Visitor— also goes home to the country to visit her elderly aunt Eila and finds herself suddenly overwhelmed by the falsity of her sophisticated city life, while the son of —The Meatyard,— who agrees to house-sit his father’s ranch, is worn down by boredom and resentment. The title story, a grown woman’s recollections of her childhood in the country with her mother and sister, rounds out the collection with its portrait of the adult life of the daughter of the first story here. Grim, weird, and remarkably affecting: the sad nostalgia that permeates nearly every page (—I remember these certain days when everything was bright—) manages, in Gunn’s hands, to become compelling rather than depressing. A small gem.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-87113-741-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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