Tackles a variety of subjects with curiosity and grace; a bit too short, though.

WATER LILIES AND OTHER SHORT STORIES

Australian author Brooks (Mary Lives, 2014) explores the triumphs and sorrows of daily life in this collection of stories.

This collection examines the vagaries of the human condition through a variety of narrative voices. “Togetherness” explores the unrequited love of a college student named Lisa for her closest childhood friend, Gary. A broken arm leads a woman named Jeannie on a voyage of self-discovery in “The Gym.” The strongest stories deal with more challenging subject matter. In the gripping and compelling “Catharsis,” a young woman named Christine attempts to cope with a rape as its aftermath leads her down a dark path of self-destruction. In “Heartbreak,” Brooks creates a poignant portrait of loving parents trying to save their son from his addictions while they raise his children. Brooks adeptly balances the dark tone of these stories with several lighthearted ones that showcase her talent for observing the minutiae of daily life, its joys and troubles. A Cub Scout fundraiser is the focus of breezy “Sausages Sizzling,” while in “United Nations,” a disparate group of tourists on a hiking tour share a common love of travel and adventure. Brooks’ conversational style may give readers the sense of eavesdropping; also her keen sense of whimsy is on full display in the comical “Deserted Island,” which relates the tale of Ian, a fisherman who dozes off while on a trip and wakes up on a deserted island miles from his destination. In this story, nature becomes a second character and Brooks lovingly describes the beauty of Ian’s surroundings: “Looking inland he saw a forest of tall grasses, over two metres tall, with frayed, fluttery fern-like tops.” The collection’s chief weakness is its brevity. Because these stories offer but brief glimpses into the characters’ lives, Brooks can only skim the surface of deeper insight into her characters and their motivations.

Tackles a variety of subjects with curiosity and grace; a bit too short, though.

Pub Date: June 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499006841

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2014

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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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