An assortment of well-written but often dreary stories of the imagination.

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DOUBLE DUTCH

In a debut collection of short stories, Trunkey (The Incredibly Ordinary Danny Chandelier, 2008) offers a broad assortment of surreal conceits ranging from animal transformation to a series of events narrated in the voice of a gun.

The nine stories in Trunkey’s collection seem determined to investigate the literary possibilities of the odd and grotesque. A single story, “Hands Like Birds,” constrains itself to the relatively mundane idea of a deaf 12-year-old girl struggling with the gradual loss of her sight to Usher Syndrome. The other eight tales tackle a variety of fantastical elements while clinging to reality to varying degrees. “Double Dutch” recounts the life of a veteran devastated by war who becomes Ronald Reagan’s body double and falls in love with the president’s wife. “Second Comings and Goings” dips into the thoughts of members of a Lutheran congregation that gives refuge to a Slovakian child refugee who may or may not be the Second Coming. “Winchester .30-.30” describes the events that eventually led to the first Canadian trial of Inuit men in dreamy, disconnected scenes recalled by a murder weapon. Although the diversity and ambition of Trunkey’s ideas make for an entertaining sequence of stories, they frequently fall prey to a knowing and maudlin despair. Characters are unhappy, selfish, or insensitive but in ways that feel like overt devices meant to engineer a sentimental haze. Stories that attempt to confront a fear of otherness, like “Night Terror,” in which a mother becomes convinced that her child is the reincarnation of a terrorist speaking Arabic, seem to stumble over a lack of conviction. The most pleasurable moments in this collection are the ones animated less by mannered gloom and more by a delighted curiosity.

An assortment of well-written but often dreary stories of the imagination.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-77089-877-6

Page Count: 280

Publisher: House of Anansi Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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