Nervy, audacious stories in which women finally get to speak their minds.

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SHOW THEM A GOOD TIME

If gender is a performance, then the Irish women in Flattery's disarming debut collection veer wildly off script.

In "Not the End Yet," a hilarious look at dating at the end of the world, middle-aged Angela commits one faux pas after another: She admits that she dates all the time, loves superficial connections, and, worst of all, doesn't judge the men who claim they could pursue much younger women: "It's a grand historical tradition," she remarks. The young woman in "Parrot" who falls in love with an older man and tries to parent his son is paralyzed by the cliché she's become. Two college students in "Abortion, A Love Story" stage a play of the same title in which they raucously refuse to perform the self-loathing and penitence expected of women who make certain choices. Plot is not the engine here. Instead, Flattery's prose—absurd, painfully funny, and bracingly original—slingshots the stories forward. These female characters never say what you're expecting, and their insights are always incisive. As the teenage narrator of "Sweet Talk" gets a ride home from an older man whom she likes, for example, she imagines different pamphlets designed to keep girls safe, including "the greatest pamphlet never written: a warning of the romantic danger of being left alone in a car with someone you're attracted to." Though Flattery's characters are often recovering from bad boyfriends, abuse, and even prostitution, they maintain self-deprecating resilience: "Usually when he was halfway through hitting me," the narrator of "Show Them a Good Time" explains about her ex-boyfriend, "it would occur to him just how obvious he was. Then he would curl up, say sorry, baby....Baby this, baby that...It was possible that this person who owned me didn't even know my name."

Nervy, audacious stories in which women finally get to speak their minds.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63557-429-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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