Mogelson shows impressive range and restraint in an area—war-related fiction—in which physical and emotional extremes have...

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THESE HEROIC, HAPPY DEAD

STORIES

U.S. veterans deal with the collateral damage of military service in this collection of often surprisingly understated stories.

An alcoholic veteran of the Afghanistan campaign is bailed out of jail by another vet who lost his legs (”To the Lake”). A vet’s broken marriage leaves his son with at least a bad physical scar, and the father eventually re-enlists (“Sea Bass”). A mother visits her veteran son in prison, eventually carrying there a box of letters he wrote to the father of the man he killed in a “drunken scrap” two months after being discharged (“Visitors”). Mogelson, who served in the National Guard without being deployed, spent almost three years as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan. The stories in this debut have the hard edge and sharp dialogue of well-observed reporting. In “A Human Cry," in which Mogelson draws a link between Army-supplied dentures and a death by farm mower, a brief scene captures a “big girl” in fishnet stockings, “little flesh diamonds pushing through the webbing like string-tied ham.” Like the mower, other common items—a chef’s knife, a car, a table saw—can cause mayhem stateside for the vet accustomed to military weapons. Only one story (“Kids”) is fully engaged in combat, and it hangs on whether the action of a local boy is meant to warn or harm U.S. soldiers. All the stories rely on some measure of ambiguity and indirectness (unlike the hammering anti-war irony of the e.e. cummings poem from which the book’s title is drawn). The fallout from PTSD may be everywhere, but the term and discussions thereon are MIA—and the stories as a result are broader and better.

Mogelson shows impressive range and restraint in an area—war-related fiction—in which physical and emotional extremes have been too readily deployed and exploited.

Pub Date: April 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-90681-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Tim Duggan Books/Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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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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