Superlative short fiction, and an arresting debut.

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DEAD BOYS

STORIES

A debut story collection about Los Angeles’s various hopeless classes.

An alcoholic is haunted by the wife who killed herself and their daughter in “Love Lifted Me.” A failed actor moves back to his mother’s house in “The Hero Shot.” Insanity overwhelms a stalker in “Everything Beautiful is Far Away.” And, in the title story, a moderately successful and deeply numb office dweller jerks back to life. Like the rest of Lange’s protagonists, these men are misfits, screw-ups and sociopaths, and these stories capture them at the moment when their brittle, circumscribed lives finally shatter. The one exception is “Bank of America,” which depicts a sublimely average family man looking forward to relaxing after he completes his final heist. This superbly crafted tale was chosen for The Best American Mystery Stories 2004, and, in its current company, it presents the reader with a pleasing irony: The gun-toting bank robber is the most gentle, least violent character in the collection. That Lange is equally adept at creating lowlifes, nice guys and all the men who fall somewhere in between says a great deal about his abilities and his style. He provides his vividly real characters with a space in which they can finally release all the emotions—the rage, the longing, the bewilderment—that they work so hard to suppress, and he compels his creations to a level of honesty they’ve evaded with drugs, alcohol and paranoid delusions. Even when this release is self-destructive, it’s also a kind of grace. The men who people this collection may engage in macho posturing, but their author never does.

Superlative short fiction, and an arresting debut.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01736-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2007

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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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