DATING MISS UNIVERSE

NINE STORIES

paper 0-8142-5019-X Polansky’s debut volume—of skillful, and skillfully familiar, stories—is winner of Ohio’s Sandstone Prize in Short Fiction. Leading off is “Leg,” which, though included in The Best American Short Stories 1995, may merely anger some in its telling of a religious family man who lets his injured leg go untreated until it needs amputation, all seemingly in order—by nursing this Christ- like scourge—to gain the respect of his sullen teenaged son. Other family dysfunctions occur in “Sleight,” with its pun on sleight/slight, a near-hyper-researched story about a magician whose daughter estranges him; and in the also ambiguously titled “Rein,” in which a man feels both trapped and made guilty by his wife’s clinical depression, a situation that’s little assuaged by a visit from the dashing, handsome horse-breeder who was once her lover, now enviably free. Less ambitiously symbol-structured pieces occur in “Acts,” another father-son tale, this time about athletics and courage; and in the title story, told by a Manhattan cabby who briefly—and with only purest intentions’stalks Miss Thailand around town. Caution is given in “Beard” that stories should never be written about writing stories, though breaking that rule—a 40-year- old man is winner of a fiction contest—results in Polansky’s best and richest piece here, especially in its portrayal of the “nationally known” writer who comes to offer a “master class” to the winners. Less good overall is “Pantalone,” about a Prufrock- like English prof, his own marriage on the rocks, who falls in love with a beautiful student who has a scarred face; his passive inertia (he loses both wife and girl) may be central to the story’s theme, but it gives no pleasure to the reader, as neither does his scarcely believable insensitivity. Conscientiously wrought fiction, always capable in scheme and technique, less often strongly involving.

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8142-0818-5

Page Count: 196

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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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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