Overall: solid, carefully composed glimpses into domestic dysfunction.

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STORIES

A collection chock-full of breakups and breakdowns—just about everybody here is in the midst of a downward spiral or unwittingly beginning one.

But that’s not to say that these latest stories by Parker (If You Want Me to Stay, 2005, etc.) are all downers. Though many of the men he writes about (and they are mostly men) have slipped into alcohol, drugs or just garden-variety dissolution, his prose is efficient and Carver-esque, with little moral posturing. And he has a sense of humor: One story, framed as a term paper by a mediocre college student, devolves from an earnest attempt to parse the meaning of a novelty hit into a rant about a split with a boyfriend to a lecture about the professor’s own prejudices; its wild discursiveness gives the story both depth and a comic lift. The best are empathetic but clearheaded portraits of folks who’ve hit the skids: The narrator of “The Right to Remain” is well aware of how drinking has wrecked his relationships but can’t bring himself to stop stalking his ex, and the narrator of “What Happens Next” is constantly shadowed by the memory of how his grandmother died on his watch when he was a reckless teen. And the finest piece in the collection, “Go Ugly Early,” neatly captures two decades of domestic worry and regret in a mere 20 pages—if the narrator had only had one or two fewer drinks, he wonders, would he have wound up with the right woman instead of the one he married? Parker knows his characters deeply, has his style down and isn’t budging from his chosen theme, so any flaws here are mainly matters of execution. A story in which a reconciling couple go gem-mining is almost hackneyed in plot and setting, and “Everything Was Paid For” is an overlong and unconvincing tale of a crank addict’s increasing confusion about his—and his girlfriend’s—loyalties.

Overall: solid, carefully composed glimpses into domestic dysfunction.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2007

ISBN: 1-56512-485-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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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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