Some of these stories are thin and ineffective, but those that work dig deeply into our innermost, darkest fears.

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BYSTANDERS

A collection of stories about the way people are affected by the sometimes-unsettling and even violent things that happen to them or others.

The 13 stories in Laskowski’s second collection (Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons, 2012) exude an ominous and haunting atmosphere. The subject matter is always fairly ordinary, deceptively banal, but just below the surface lurk quiet terrors. The first story, “The Witness,” is about a female bystander who sees a car hit a young boy—his body flew onto the street like a “sheet of paper.” Marie’s obsession with the accident and the man who drove the car leads to profound consequences for her marriage. Tension oozes out of many of these stories. A couple keeps sneaking into a man’s apartment in “The Cat-Sitter” to fondle his things and have sex. In one of the best, “There’s Someone Behind You,” a woman who has secretly been seeing a married man hides in his backyard on Halloween night in order to glimpse the man’s wife in the house. Feeling excited and wicked, she quietly calls out the woman’s name, over and over, confident she won’t come out. A woman becomes obsessed with a co-worker’s murderer in “Death Wish.” Couples—mothers and fathers—and their children populate the stories. There’s a supernatural element and plenty of tension in “The Monitor.” Myra and Corey are given a video monitor to observe their baby, a “colicky, fussy little thing.” Some nights a frightened Myra thinks she’s seeing another baby. Turns out the video is coming from a family’s monitor across the street. Then she starts seeing a little boy walking around the room; they have no boy. There are shades of “The Yellow Wallpaper” in this terrific story. Laskowski’s fine workings of tales that go creepy in the night make her a writer to watch.

Some of these stories are thin and ineffective, but those that work dig deeply into our innermost, darkest fears.

Pub Date: May 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-939650-38-2

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Santa Fe Writers Project

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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