LAST CAR OVER THE SAGAMORE BRIDGE

Orner packs memorable characters—and occasionally some plot as well—into an exceptionally small space.

The stories here range from the ultrashort (a single paragraph) to the merely moderately short (a few pages), and with more than 40 stories coming in at around 200 pages, many of them feel more like snippets or vignettes than fleshed-out narratives. The opening story, “Foley’s Pond,” introduces us to Nate Zamost, who missed a week of school when his sister, 2 1/2, drowned in the pond. On his return, Nate’s friends try to cheer him up, though Nate makes them realize that he’s the one who had taught his sister to crawl under the fence protecting the pond. In “Horace and Josephine,” we meet the quirky title characters, aunt and uncle of the narrator. Josephine’s welcome habit of dispensing $50 bills to her nephews is tempered by the fact that Horace earns his money through a Ponzi scheme, and although both are eventually disgraced, they’re not willing to abandon their personal flamboyance. “The Poet,” the shortest story in the collection, presents a poet who’s recently had a stroke and who’s sadly “trotted...out [as] a novelty act” to stumble through his poems on the podium. “Geraldo, 1986” takes us back to Geraldo Rivera’s infamous, and embarrassing, attempt to pump up the discovery of Al Capone’s “lost vault” at the Lexington Hotel into the new King Tut’s tomb. Throughout the stories, Orner shows himself to be a master of the pithy phrase. A couple moves to South Dakota, for example, leaving the narrator to wonder “what heinous crime they must have committed in some other life to deserve exile in this moonscape among the earnest corn-fed.”

Pithy and evocative.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-22464-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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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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