JUST AN ORDINARY DAY

A patchwork collection of 54 (mostly brief) stories, all previously uncollected and/or unpublished, by the late (191965) author of The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House, and other classics of contemporary supernatural fiction. Jackson's talent was to find the ghoulish and disturbing just beneath the surface of the commonplace (her work has significantly influenced Stephen King's). Accordingly, a majority of these stories portray marital or domestic crises, cunningly raised to high levels of tension and, very often, terror. Though Lucifer himself shows up in a few (most memorably, ``The Smoking Room,'' where he's outwitted by a calculating coed), Jackson's evil figures are, much more often, enigmatic men who prey on or otherwise disappoint the women who adore them (``The Honeymoon of Mrs. Smith''), children who intuit odd occurrences and presences their elders cannot perceive (``Summer Afternoon''), and nice old ladies whose charming eccentricities mask their darker purposes (``The Possibility of Evil''). There's rather a lot of inchoate work here (such as a weak piece of romantic medievalism, ``Lord of the Castle''), and many of the bland titles were obviously only preliminary. Of the unpublished stories, best are such Saki-like models of compact menace as ``The Mouse,'' ``What a Thought,'' and ``Mrs. Anderson''—as well as two of Jackson's most amusing pictures of embattled motherhood (``Arch-Criminal'' and ``Alone in a Den of Cubs''). The uncollected pieces, many of them first published in popular magazines, are nevertheless generally much stronger. They feature several ingenious premises (``The Wishing Dime,'' ``Journey with a Lady,'' and especially ``The Omen,'' a complex chiller beautifully developed from its fairy-tale-like beginning), vividly realistic characterizations (``Mrs. Melville Makes a Purchase''), and at least one indisputable classic: ``One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts,'' in which Jackson records with virtuosic understatement the cruel and unusual avocation shared by a devoted suburban couple. Even at a bit below the level of her best work, it's nice to have Jackson back again.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-553-10303-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1996

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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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