Amiable manifestations of the bard’s life and times, though without the sheer driving éclat of, say, last year’s Mrs....

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HER INFINITE VARIETY

STORIES OF SHAKESPEARE AND THE WOMEN HE LOVED

Berkman debuts with ten pleasant albeit airy historicals about episodes in Shakespeare’s life or characters in his plays.

At age 11, in “Gold,” Shakespeare declares to his mother that he won’t follow in his father’s footsteps as a glover, but instead—somehow—will earn great riches. And “In the Bed,” presumably Anne Hathaway’s second-best, his plan is formed; there is happy lovemaking between husband and wife before Shakespeare’s departure for London (“I believe I can be effective, writing for the theater,” he says in one of the moments of particular heavy-handedness that are sprinkled throughout), though in the same bed there’s also grief when son Hamnet dies of fever. In his mean lodgings in London, Shakespeare works on A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the fairy-queen Titania hovers over his shoulder commenting—and objecting that she’s made to love an ass. Though monologues by Ophelia (“Dark Blue”), Lady Macbeth (“The Scottish Wife”), and Juliet’s love-denied mother (“Duty”) have their own sorts of interest, they satisfy less than do the sketches offering fictional peeks into the life of Shakespeare himself. These are more abundantly provided in “Jennet,” where the author sires an illegitimate son, and in “Mary Mountjoy’s Dowry,” about life in the working-class London house where the great man boards—a piece that includes extensive diary-entries from the period. “No Cause” is among the most ambitious here, having to do with the marriages of Shakespeare’s daughters, especially plain Judith, who at 30 feels compelled to settle for an especially humiliating offer, her only one. Best of all and most deft with its learning may be the last, when Shakespeare dies in the large kitchen at New Place (the kitchen is where it’s warmest), thinking of Elizabeth I, in “Diamonds at Her Fingertips.”

Amiable manifestations of the bard’s life and times, though without the sheer driving éclat of, say, last year’s Mrs. Shakespeare, The Complete Works, by Robert Nye.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7432-1255-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Scribner

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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