While Stamm doesn't discount the possibility of happiness and comradeship, there is invariably an ounce of joy for every...

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IN STRANGE GARDENS

AND OTHER STORIES

Most of the individuals in these austerely written stories by Swiss novelist Stamm (Unformed Landscape, 2005, etc.) lead humdrum but desperate lives.

To read all 20, assembled from two volumes of stories published separately in German, is to visit a literary purgatory where a throng of dispirited characters cling to a comfortless bare rock of prose. His characters, whether Swiss or Costa Rican, visiting New York or working in London, share a world culture of Alec Guinness, Tracy Chapman, Walt Whitman and Star Trek that does nothing to bring them closer together. Many of these stories involve love that fails or a despairing plea for help or solace that goes unanswered. In “Like a Child, Like an Angel,” a wealthy Swiss accountant never responds to a letter from a poor colleague who needs an expensive medicine for his wife. In “The Wall of Fire,” an exploited outcast working for a carnival puts himself at risk to impress a girl to whom he means almost nothing. The narrator of “What We Can Do” rebuffs the embarrassed advances of a sad office mate to whom their mutual colleagues have given the cruel gift of a vibrator. “Black Ice” is perhaps the bleakest: Larissa, a young mother dying of a resistant strain of tuberculosis tells “everything she had thought in the last few months” to a journalist because no one else—not even her husband—has visited her for months. The misery radiates to the smallest details. Larissa mentions a neighbor with a broken TV “who keeps switching it on anyway and staring at the black screen.” In Stamm’s world, when three young friends laugh and sunbathe on a station platform, they do so only until a train pulls up to unload the corpse of a suppliant who has died on the way to Lourdes.

While Stamm doesn't discount the possibility of happiness and comradeship, there is invariably an ounce of joy for every pound of gloom.

Pub Date: April 18, 2006

ISBN: 1-59051-169-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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