WOMEN DRINKING BENEDICTINE

A second collection from a former winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award (The Long White, 1988): ten mildly inspired stories that, like interesting inflatables, could have used an extra breath or two to bring them into a taut, emotionally compelling form. Dilworth shows a strong sense of place, but her ability to evoke the inner territory of longing seems less acute. Besides locale (the settings are mostly in Michigan and Pennsylvania) what unifies these tales are the alternative routes people take to fulfill their frustrated desires for human intimacy. In “Keeping the Wolves at Bay,” a son on the eve of his wedding travels to Europe with his deceased father’s gay lover—and decides to cancel his misguided marriage plans. “Three Fat Women of (Pittsburgh Just Visiting) Antibes” features a trio of friends who discover that the warmth of their argumentative friendship compensates nicely for their failed attempts to find love. The women of the title piece are beautiful strangers who arrive in a small Michigan town, have a drink in a bar, then disappear, compelling a lonely local to cross an icy lake to find them again. In “Awaken With My Mother’s Dreams,” the strongest story here, a daughter gains knowledge from her mother’s attempts to overcome isolation, even as her sisters protest the dangerous kayak fling the mother insists on taking. No story disappoints, but neither is any richly engaging. Dilworth often attempts to dramatize the conflicts of her characters by setting them in stark, unforgiving places: the harsh winter cold of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; the soggy gray of western Pennsylvania; a volcano near Hawaii that erupts obscurely, with no witnesses to view it. But while these landscapes are cleanly molded, their implications fail to illustrate or justify the blandly evoked lives of such people and their one-dimensional appetites. The result: a gathering of sagging forms, promising in outline, but lacking distinct shape.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8142-0812-6

Page Count: 220

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1998

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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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