Breece D’J Pancake gets all the literary press out of West Virginia, what there is of it. But he’s been dead nearly 40...

ALLEGHENY FRONT

Sometimes lyrical, sometimes scarifying stories by the up-and-coming author of Honey from the Lion (2015).

What happens to a body when it’s been dumped in the woods under a loose pile of leaves? Maybe you don’t want to know the details, and perhaps it’s enough to say, as Null does, that “the bears and the foxes broke him apart and scattered him far and near,” language tender and elegant enough to serve in a Scottish border ballad by way of Appalachia. Null does not let that suffice, though: the body of the poor traveling salesman who ventures unwisely into the hollers is more than broken up—gnawed by dogs, half-buried, and worse—outside the confines of the story, ironically titled “Something You Can’t Live Without,” forgotten but for one thing: its former occupant’s wise observation, not long before dying, that “an animal has just enough brains to cure its own hide.” Hmmm: cured indeed. Not all the stories in this small collection are bleak and violent, but those are the dominant moods, fitting the severe landscape. Within that setting of crags, foreboding forests, and onrushing creeks, Null finds poetry and moments that can sometimes bear something like grace: “The sky went from indigo to blackness, and he saw nothing ominous in it, nothing but cold stars wheeling in their course, a course determined by the same firm hand he hoped was guiding his own.” Whether logging, farming, or damming creeks, the people who inhabit these stories are also mostly at war with each other and certainly at war with the land, which repays them with all sorts of mayhem—but sometimes, as in the closing story, with a bit of dumb luck as well.

Breece D’J Pancake gets all the literary press out of West Virginia, what there is of it. But he’s been dead nearly 40 years, and it’s high time someone else did. Null is a natural writer with much to say.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941411-25-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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