Van Booy clearly believes there are surprising new ways to write about love. Here, he proves he’s right, occasionally.

TALES OF ACCIDENTAL GENIUS

STORIES

A tenderhearted clutch of stories and fables that highlights interconnectedness between everyone from fashionistas to peasantry, ranging from Brooklyn to London to Beijing.

Van Booy is an unrepentant softie: two of his prior story collections highlight the word “love” in their titles (The Secret Lives of People in Love, 2007; Love Begins in Winter, 2009), and sentimentality runs deep here, too. Indeed, it sometimes overflows. “The Goldfish” is a treacly tale about a man seeking medical help for a dead fish he’s persuaded himself is only ailing and another man’s small act of kindness that spares him sorrow; in “A Slow and Deliberate Disappearance,” a magician visits a retirement home, where a pair of stories he hears about eroding memories fuses in a predictable and old-fashioned manner. Van Booy displayed a similar romanticism in his 2013 novel, The Illusion of Separateness, but that book was redeemed by the depth of its characters. So it’s not surprising that the shorter sketches that open this collection are improved upon by the prose poem/novella that closes it: in “Golden Helper II,” a boy in Beijing named Weng watches his father labor over a mechanical device he’s invented to add speed to the tricycle he uses to make vegetable deliveries; when it proves to be a kind of perpetual motion machine that makes Weng fabulously rich, he’s forced to consider how he can use his newfound wealth to help others and deal with his heartache over the married woman he’s fallen for. The story is formatted like a poem, though it generally reads like prose, and the careful, softened language (“his heart like a kite on currents of breath”) and elemental plot support its billing as a satisfying fable.

Van Booy clearly believes there are surprising new ways to write about love. Here, he proves he’s right, occasionally.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-240897-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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