Howard’s abundant career has been notable for its inventive amplitude—a feature that her most recent gathering demonstrates...

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BIG AS LIFE

THREE TALES FOR SPRING

A trio of tales in the second of Howard’s novels (after A Lover’s Almanac, 1998) planned for each of the seasons. Spring, in her sophisticated vision, is a time of imaginative generosity, generative creation, and the bright moment when human finitude is brought into relief.

The author brings a characteristically tender and exacting eye to the natural world. “Imagine carp—flickering metallic orange, not gold,” she begins. “Natural, by design so natural.” In “Children with Matches,” Marie Claude, a historian grappling for her place in the academic establishment, is involved with Hans Gruen, an official in US international relations, whose worldwide ramblings and erratic availability daunt her efforts to find a home for her heart. In “The Magdalene,” the life of Nelly Boyle, who comes to the States during the Depression, serves as counterpoint to that of her cousin Mae—and also serves to illustrate both spiritual and material ways of coming to rest in a world of one’s own making. The strongest piece—and the most artistically personal—is “Big as Life,” which begins by narrating the life and varied fortunes of naturalist John James Audubon as seen through the eyes of his wife Lucy. By tracing the fate of the illustrations for his magnificent Birds of America right up to the present day, and by honing her story to follow the life of Long Island artist Louise Moffett, Howard fashions a narrative that recalls the history of the speaker’s own association with the massive volume. This simple version of one woman’s encounter with an object—an encounter that occurs in a specific place of memory and imagination—is remarkable testimony to the anatomy of the artistic imagination and bears all the passionate, particular traits of a personal philosophy.

Howard’s abundant career has been notable for its inventive amplitude—a feature that her most recent gathering demonstrates with powerful, if occasionally allusive, storytelling.

Pub Date: May 21, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-89978-X

Page Count: 227

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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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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