Imaginative and insightful.

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THE MOTHER GARDEN

STORIES

In the tradition of Judy Budnitz and Aimee Bender, an offbeat debut collection of stories about the relationships between parents and children.

Ellen, the mother figure in the first story, “The Arrival,” is terminally ill and impatiently waiting out her final days on the Oregon shore. A young woman mysteriously turns up on the beach nearby needing shelter, and Ellen is able to relate to her in a way that she and her daughter haven’t in a long time. The parent is the lost character in the next story, “Lost and Found,” about a grown Arizona woman who finds her long-missing father in the desert, only to have him take up too much space—literally and figuratively—in her life. Just as she is beginning to build her life around him, including introducing him to a man who was once important to her, he disappears. In “The Egg Game,” a couple tries to take care of an egg as they would a child in order to determine whether they are ready for parenthood—and they soon learn that it isn’t quite as easy as they thought. Becca, protagonist of “The Tilt,” helps her boyfriend mourn his brother’s accidental death. And in the title story, a man and a woman tend an unusual garden—one where they plant their presumably deceased mothers, rather than vegetation, and continue to interact with them in their afterlives. The bizarre twists in Romm’s otherwise familiar stories require the reader to take leaps of faith, but the author handles the material delicately and matter-of-factly, making it believable.

Imaginative and insightful.

Pub Date: July 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-4165-3902-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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