There may be more important writers around, but none is more likable, or more dependably entertaining and rewarding, than...

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THE WHORE’S CHILD

AND OTHER STORIES

Readers who loved such a roomy, generously plotted, and detailed novel the Pulitzer-winning Empire Falls (2001) won’t be able to resist this first collection of seven stories by the Maine novelist.

Most of the stories are closely akin to Russo’s longer fiction, especially “The Farther You Go,” which shows a slightly harsher side of hangdog college prof Hank Devereaux, the engaging protagonist of Straight Man (1997)—from which it is perhaps a discarded chapter? Crises peculiar to middle age and bereavement are compassionately explored in tales about a widowed filmmaker’s tardy realization of what his late wife had meant to him (“Monhegan Light”); and a retired academic biographer’s disturbingly personal discovery that it is “foolish and arrogant to think you could imagine the truth of another human life” (“Buoyancy”). Russo is at his best in the beautifully developed title story, in which a nun’s accidental grasp of the truth about her childhood functions as epiphany also for her divorced creative-writing teacher. And he’s unrivaled by any writer since the early Salinger at striking to the heart of childhood-becoming-adolescence: in the novella-length history of an introspective ten-year-old (“The Mysteries of Linwood Hart”) slowly, painstakingly maturing out of his suspicion that the world revolves around him; and in the superb “Joy Ride.” The latter records the experiences and observations of a preadolescent embryonic delinquent whose impulsive mother snatches him away from deeper trouble, their Maine hometown, and her eccentric underachiever of a husband, for a brief, perilous vacation from domesticity and responsibility. It’s a wonderful distillation of Russo’s gifts for crystal-clear narration, subtle character portrayal, and irrepressible humor, and is capped by a tonally perfect bittersweet conclusion.

There may be more important writers around, but none is more likable, or more dependably entertaining and rewarding, than Russo.

Pub Date: July 16, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-41168-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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