Lovingly crafted comedies from a writer beginning to match wit with wisdom.

HITS AND MISSES

Eighteen new flights of fancy from preternaturally gifted humorist Rich (Spoiled Brats, 2014, etc.).

Art, ambition, and Hollywood stardust are at the heart of this new comic collection from Rich, just coming off producing three seasons of sitcom Man Seeking Woman, itself based on his own The Last Girlfriend on Earth (2013). Professional jealousy gets a twist in “The Baby,” in which a novelist finds himself competing with his unborn child for literary recognition. The funniest story to read aloud follows in “Riding Solo: The Oatsy Story,” in which Paul Revere’s unsung horse laments his historical obscurity. Making art is literally addictive in “Relapse,” in which a one-hit wonder tries to escape the ugly realities of adulthood. Shades of Christopher Moore’s historical slapstick fall over two stories: “Hands,” about a Christian monk struggling with his own ethical deficits, and “The Great Jester,” a Python-esque medieval farce. There are a few frivolities that might have been better left on the cutting-room floor, including the one-joke “Physician’s Lounge, April 1st,” the simplistic “Tom Hanks Stories,” and the self-flagellating satire “The Book of Simon.” It’s not that Rich can’t be acidic: See “Adolf Hitler: The GQ Profile,” the mordantly funny “Upward Mobility,” or the sheer irony of “Artist’s Revenge.” But he also has a sweet spot between mockery and respect for old Hollywood that most notably appears in “New Client,” in which an old-time talent agent strikes a deal with his last client, and the tartly charming “Stage 13,” about a starlet who finally makes good.

Lovingly crafted comedies from a writer beginning to match wit with wisdom.

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-46889-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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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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