Taken individually, most of the stories are too wispy to be memorable. Still, together they form a quick, seamless arc that...

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WHAT ABOUT THE LOVE PART?

Another woman hooks up with all the wrong men, in linked stories from a fresh new voice.

Although the jacket copy would have us believe that our protagonist, Abby Hillman, is a smart woman who just chooses the wrong guys, there’s little in the collection to prove she’s anything but average. But it’s Rosenfeld’s decision to make her so—as opposed to the more common diamond-in-the-rough type—that lends interest to this intermittently impressive volume. In the first story, “Good for the Frog,” Abby talks about her last bad relationship, doing so with her long-distance friends Sarah and Jasper. She’s a needy mess but manages to slip in a good deal of self-deprecating asides. That story doesn’t prepare us for the body of “What About the Love Part?,” however, where we discover that Abby isn’t just clueless about love, but she’s got a child, Katrin, with an ex-husband and seems to be drifting slowly into a numbed loneliness. The most painful pieces take up her relationship with Stephen—a scathing caricature of a maddeningly self-involved itinerant writer—and their seemingly interminable rafting trips in the West (white-water rapids play far too large a role here). By the close, Abby’s life has come to seem almost hopeless: friends drifting away, romantic prospects nil, she herself exhibiting increasingly neurotic and fretful behavior. While there is little of the redemption here that readers may look for in tales of hapless heroines, Rosenfeld nevertheless makes her character convincingly real, which may, after all, be the more important thing.

Taken individually, most of the stories are too wispy to be memorable. Still, together they form a quick, seamless arc that ends in graceful, lonely quietude.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-345-44823-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2002

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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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