Think Chekhov writing from a female perspective, burnished by the ennui of a soulless collectivist state, contemplating the...



Petrushevskaya’s (There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby, 2009) short stories transform the mundane into the near surreal, pausing only to wink at the absurdity of it all.

The literary collection opens with an informed and knowledgeable introduction by translator Summers, a literary editor born in Moscow. Petrushevskaya, first celebrated as a journalist and a playwright with her prose only published after glasnosthere writes of characters, women most eloquently, mired in environs so dull as to focus their attention toward drink, sex and, most critical of all, a decent apartment in which to live. In “A Murky Fate,” a lonely spinster pleads with her mother for privacy to entertain a lover; “insensitive and crude,” yet an assignation that brings fulfillment. In “The Goddess Parka,” a penniless provincial schoolteacher is seduced by his vacation landlord’s distant cousin. “Like Penelope” chronicles an alliance between Oksana, “a girl beloved by her mother but no one else,” and Mischa, whose hand-me-downs Oksana wore. In “Two Deities,” an older woman and young man contemplate their son, the product of a “few minutes of half-naked passion on the cramped kitchen sofa.” The most unconventional is “Hallelujah, Family!” four lives laid out in a list of the 45 notes. Then comes “Give Her to Me,” about a struggling composer and lyricist but beyond the starving artist cliché. In “Milgrom,” a Lithuanian beauty is robbed of her son.  The four concluding stories are “The Adventures of Vera,” “Ero’s Way,” “Young Berries” and “A Happy Ending,” where an STD infects a marriage with hate. In these tales of pessimism and gloom, stoicism and resolution, life real and life absurd, Petrushevskaya delivers 17 stories in four groups, many of them cold, dark and vodka-drenched; some rampant with alcoholism and cruelty; and nearly all struggling in contemplation of soul-damaged men and maternal women.

Think Chekhov writing from a female perspective, burnished by the ennui of a soulless collectivist state, contemplating the influence of culture and politics on love and relationships.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-14-312152-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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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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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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