NORMAL

STORIES

The most agreeable pieces in Nevai's second collection (Star Game, 1987) suggests that social workers rush in where angels fear to tread, which is a welcome view in fiction largely concerned with family dysfunction, alcoholism, divorce, and madness—in short, with families who desperately need help. These 12 stories, almost all previously published in literary magazines, often rely on a sly point of view. When the liberal parents in ``Monsieur Alle,'' from Manhattan's Upper West Side, are investigated by a Social Services worker, it's difficult to figure out who's hurting the most in this screwy family. Equally winning is ``Me, Gus,'' a first-person narrative of a short Italian fellow from Jersey who gets little respect from his extended family, but discovers his true calling as a graphic designer in Manhattan, where he also seduces a wealthy heiress and conquers his longtime fear of the Holland Tunnel. Families connect and disconnect throughout these stories. In ``Close,'' a social worker who counsels teenage suicide survivors panics en route to a funeral for her brother, who has died of AIDS, knowing that she'll have to deal with her unsympathetic siblings and parents. Difficult father/daughter reunions figure in ``Release,'' ``Normal,'' and ``Quinn's Wedding'': The first finds a tough-loving father picking up his truant runaway daughter from a mental hospital; the second reunites a runaway junkie daughter with her still hypercritical father—even though she's now clean, married, and a mother; and the last involves a moment of triumph for a middle-aged recovering druggie/alcoholic, who finally returns home to confront her pedophile father. Other tales feature a subway drunk, a self- mutilating girl, and a middle-manager on a fateful Colorado rafting trip. Some of the shorter pieces beg for development, and settle too readily for cynicism and glibness, but the strongest stories here make it clear that Nevai is a real talent with a ready wit and a steady gaze.

Pub Date: April 20, 1997

ISBN: 1-56512-158-9

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

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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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