Impressive work from a virtuoso.

THE HOUSE AT BELLE FONTAINE

STORIES

Death haunts this dark collection of 10 stories from Tuck (I Married You for Happiness, 2011, etc.).

Ella is an American divorcee raising her children in France in the title story. She’s a tenant on the estate of one of the richest (and oldest) men in the country. Her arrival coincided with a horrendous plane crash nearby; hundreds died. Ella has been summoned to dinner with her landlord on a cold winter’s night: The story is suffused in existential dread. That same dread affects Maud in "Ice." She and husband Peter, retirees, are on an Antarctic cruise. Peter’s nighttime disappearance, re-awakening her old fears, is far more frightening than the surrounding icebergs. "Lucky" is more complicated. Six characters’ lives intersect; the model is the play/movie Six Degrees of Separation. An alcoholic crashes his car and dies; that’s the heart of a story remarkable for its technical expertise. That expertise is also evident in "Sure and Gentle Words." It begins with a German professor’s mysterious and fatal fall from a train in 1911, touches lightly on two momentous sexual encounters and one world war, and ends some 20 years later with the professor’s son interpreting that fall in his film. Dislocation is a recurrent theme. An American couple discovers that going native in Thailand can have a boomerang effect: It’s not pretty. ("Bloomsday in Bangkok"). "Pérou" offers a more extreme example of cultural dislocation. A young French nanny travels with her employer to South America in 1940 to avoid the war. Her fate there seems almost gratuitously cruel. There’s nothing cruel about Chingis in "The Riding Teacher," though he’s a descendant of one of the great killer conquerors of history, Genghis Khan. All that this gentle, unhappy man has inherited is superb horsemanship. Leave contemporary cruelty to Mark, the unfaithful husband in "My Flame," who takes shocking advantage of his vulnerable niece in a story that burns with a wicked flame indeed.

Impressive work from a virtuoso.

Pub Date: May 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2016-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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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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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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