Although some stories resonate more loudly than others, ultimately Selecky’s party is worth attending.

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THIS CAKE IS FOR THE PARTY

Selecky’s debut collection of 10 short stories contains almost all the right ingredients.

In a group of stories that explore the power of love, friendships, familial relationships and all of the emotions these entanglements elicit, Selecky delves beneath the surface to provide an honest and insightful glimpse into her characters’ lives and situations, which sometimes parallel our own. Often witty and poignant, each story can stand on its own and contains components both familiar and unique: a woman who discovers that her engaged best friend is having an affair as she deals with a drunken ex who’s just shown up at her door and is coping with a disastrous and very funny dinner party; a young girl desperate to break away from her ultrareligious father who ends up making out with a total stranger in the back of a bus as she travels back home; a woman who hopes to conceive with her husband during a weekend getaway only to end up doubting his fidelity and making love with a friend; and a young man who questions his own values and the actions of his wife and her friends when he witnesses a mother’s neglect of her young child. While women may identify more readily with the dynamics of each situation and the characters that inhabit each tale, most readers will appreciate the author’s simple and straightforward writing. A few narratives aren’t as interesting as others, and it takes effort to get through them, but given the strength of the overall collection of stories, this weakness is easy to overlook.

Although some stories resonate more loudly than others, ultimately Selecky’s party is worth attending.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-01142-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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