SURVIVAL RATES

STORIES

Decently done but unremarkable debut collection, the recipient of this year’s Flannery O—Connor Award for Short Fiction. Most of the characters here—many of them Mormons, almost all living in the American Southwest—are either sick or connected intimately with sickness or tragedy. How they face the distress at hand becomes a measure of their character. Cecil, the nose surgeon of “Howard Johnson’s House,” has to carry on with his daily routine of facial reconstructions even as his mother Edna lies dying, beyond his assistance. Anna and Nicole, the two teenaged cancer patients of “Krista Had a Treble Clef Rose,” carry on with all the normal occupations of adolescence—crushes on boys, preparations for dances, fantasies about their futures—from the oncology ward of the hospital where they—ve met. “A Good Paved Road” describes a religious dilemma: a high school girl tries to convert her boyfriend to the Mormon Church she grew up in, then loses her faith when she fails. And in “Victor’s Funeral Urn,” a recently divorced wife who’s contemplating a reunion with her ex-husband happens upon an urn containing what appear to be human ashes on the side of a road—and then tries to locate the owner. “Jumping” finds a woman still haunted by a skiing accident 33 years after the fact. The best of the lot is the title story, describing the dual traumas of a husband being treated for thyroid cancer and of the wife whose exhaustion over his disease prompts her to leave him. Clyde knows her world well and manages to offer a fair representation of it, but there’s a lack of depth to her sketches that make them seen like just that—quick studies.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8203-2049-8

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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