A debut to treasure, a remarkably assured cycle of stories about men who’ll live in your heart even though you’ll be glad...

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CONTROLLED BURN

STORIES OF PRISON, CRIME, AND MEN

Thirteen stories track men who live and work in states with only one area code.

Keep your eye on these men without women. Newcomer Wolven’s females are either instrumental, like Ann, the one who inspires Mark’s fatal love in “Tigers,” or as hard as men themselves, like Ida, who comes up in “Taciturnity” with a uniquely brutal way of taking revenge on the cop who arrested her grandson for drug dealing. Some of the heroes are in stir, like Cooper, who’s trying his hardest to keep a low profile during the last few weeks before his release in “Outside Work Detail.” But even the ones who aren’t doing time are locked in their own prison of alcohol, drugs, and testosterone. So the narrator of “The Rooming House,” after his arrest for beating his second wife on the same spot where he beat his first, can reflect, “It sounded so strange to me, to think of [children and retirement] and to think it was already past me, that part of life.” Whether they’re working as unofficial private eyes (“The Copper Kings” and “Underdogs”), burning cornfields that hide marijuana plants (“Controlled Burn”), or volunteering as sparring partners to prizefighters (“El Rey”), the bad-dog savagery of Wolven’s males makes their flights into lyrical sweetness all the more dazzling and disturbing. “Crank” and “Ball Lightning Reported,” in fact, threaten to dissolve into white-hot prose poetry about what it feels like to be high on speed. Yet “Atomic Supernova,” for all the surrealism of its Nevada sheriff’s conviction that he’s been set apart from lesser humans by the radiation he absorbed, is powerful stuff, and “Tigers” an extraordinary meditation on the relation between life, growth, and death.

A debut to treasure, a remarkably assured cycle of stories about men who’ll live in your heart even though you’ll be glad they don’t live next door.

Pub Date: April 12, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-6011-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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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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