WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT LOVE

STORIES

Carver's spare voice remains distinctive in this new collection of stories (Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, 1977, was his first). Scary in how quickly they unfold, the stories prove to contain within their small dimensions a frequent radicalism of emotion, a back-against-the-wall-ness that's startling. The speech-like titles—"Why Don't You Dance?," "Tell the Women We're Going," "I Could See the Smallest Things," "One More Thing"—act as false reassurances, dishes from under which Carver yanks the tablecloth. Domestic situations—mostly of leaving, of disappointing—predominate, narrated often in the form of one character telling another a story of self-compromise which neither of them can wholly bear. The very best stories here—"The Bath" (a dying child, the eerie spaces he clears) and "After the Denim" (an elderly couple and a hippie couple at bingo night, with the utter impossibility of ever lining lives up parallel)—both suggest, nearly unforgettably, that the most dangerous thing that any of us own is the past. "What people won't do!" comments an innocent, if vacuous, lover in the title story—and you sense Carver in the background, knowing all too well what people will do. Yet for all the true lugubrious anarchy we're so economically reminded of here, Carver's fiction may be less original than it seems. Dependent on a Jack Benny-ish deadpan, on the ironic situation that bends itself in two and then can't be re-straightened, Carver is essentially writing John O'Hara stories—but with all the water wrung out. The dialogue is faultlessly non-sequitur; the characters are often simultaneously released and terse (thanks to liquor); violence is daily and unremarkable. These are stories, in other words, strictly about mores, not morals—and if looked at in the long literary view, they can seem thin, sneakily sentimental, all tone. Still, as artifacts of American culture right this minute, they are mightily impressive and, at their best, invested with a fiercely humane pathos.

Pub Date: April 20, 1981

ISBN: 0679723056

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1981

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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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