Not a speck of warmth.

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IF THE SKY FALLS

STORIES

Death, disabilities and dysfunction, dryly described, fill 11 stories of unrelenting unhappiness.

Testing the limits of well-meaning readers who want to give good writers a fair chance, Montemarano, whose 2001 novel A Fine Place was rooted in the racial conflicts of Bensonhurst, offers a succession of bleakly linked stories in which people go, for the most part, from bad to worse. The opening story presents an impatient and incompetent mother who carries out a threat to leave her young, innocently disobedient daughter in the park, where she is taken away forever by a probable pedophilic murderer. The narrator is the little girl’s brother, who was doomed to live with the wretched mother and an ineffective father into permanently scarred adulthood. There is a brace of stories narrated by a young man working, in the first, as attendant to a severely disabled couple and, in the second, as attendant to the surviving husband who blames him for the death of his wife. Unable to speak, the wife could communicate solely by animal-like noises and raised eyelids. Unable to feed herself, she was in constant danger of choking, which, in fact, at the opening of the second story, she has done. The cerebral palsy–afflicted husband, disagreeable in the extreme, can speak enough to berate the narrator at every turn. When the widower invites an equally handicapped chum over to watch a Yankees game, he directs the visitor to give his own flunky the afternoon off. The overworked attendant decides to take both gents off to Yankee Stadium, but the drunken trip (the guys in the wheelchair down many beers) gets side-routed to a lap-dance parlor where disaster predictably ensues. A later story features a dog thrown to its death from a window prior to even greater tragedy. The writing is all quite smooth, but one may be reminded of those weird German kindertotenlieder, lovely songs about childhood death.

Not a speck of warmth.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8071-3122-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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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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