THE WRECKING YARD

AND OTHER STORIES

Benedict's first collection of stories since his auspicious if uneven debut (Town Smokes, 1987) is a far more accomplished work, establishing him among the best young southern writers—full of passion and mature enough to keep it under control. Benedict searches out the moral dimension in the hardscrabble lives of rednecks and country people, and transcends the folksy bromides they espouse. He discerns the confusion and ambiguities in their seemingly uncomplicated lives. In ``Rescuing Moon,'' the narrator retrieves a dying friend from a nursing home, only to realize he doesn't know what to do with him next. The title story, about some decent guys who salvage car wrecks, hints at the conflict in their lives between doing their vulture-like job and empathizing with the tragedies they witness. In ``Bounty,'' a fellow from the country comes to town hoping to collect a reward for the truckload of dead dogs he's shot, even though they seem to be domestic animals and not wild predators. Almost as funny and bizarre (though equally believable) is ``Horton's Ape,'' the death song of a former circus baboon who lives in a cage behind a roadhouse, where he causes lots of trouble. ``Odom'' is a pitch- perfect tale of ``crazy backward ridge-running mountain rats''—a dirt-poor father and son who are clearing a homestead with bootleg dynamite. Benedict's stories about male-female relations transcend the clichÇs of hard-luck romance. The flawless ``Getting Over Arnette'' records the sorrow and redemption of a good old boy who bemoans the loss of his fiery girlfriend, who returns after his barroom beating. The weird and gothic radio play, ``The Electric Girl,'' concerns love, a murder of passion, retribution, and sideshow freaks. Similarly, the historical ``Washman,'' a long Shirley Jacksonish tale of fate and violence, explores the mysteries of abstract beauty and ugliness. The author's mystical sensibility shows itself plainly in the bedtime story ``The Panther,'' a backwoods Ovidian narrative. Benedict's range is expansive, his vision focused, and his voice true.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-385-42021-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1991

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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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