With each book Boyle becomes a more adventurous and interesting writer.

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WILD CHILD

The usual darkly comic cautionary tales, but also some bracingly and impressively new works from the prolific author (The Women, 2009, etc.).

Many of these 13 short stories echo a bit too closely Boyle’s numerous earlier envisionings of human greed and stupidity, and the harsh ways in which nature outwits and punishes us all. In “La Conchita,” the delivery of a human liver destined for transplant is compromised by an epic California mudslide. How to vote on a resolution to protect indigenous wildlife (“Question 62”) assumes new meaning for a gentle young widow when a mountain lion begins patrolling her neighborhood. A high-school biology teacher learns just how impassioned the debate over evolution vs. creationism has become (“Bulletproof”); a lonely widower acquires an unconventional pet, incurring the interference of “Thirteen Hundred Rats”; and a veteran babysitter indulges the wishes of a childless rich couple who replace their late Afghan hound with a ridiculously expensive cloned canine (“Admiral”). Boyle nods off elsewhere, in the limp tale of a Botoxed beauty’s unrequited love for her sleek surgeon (“Hands On”), and in depictions of neighborhood enmity exacerbated by wildfires (“Ash Monday”) and drug-addicted vocalists pretending to rediscover their humanity while recording a Christmas novelty tune (“Three Quarters of the Way to Hell”). But he’s at his best in an icy portrayal of a contemptible new dad who exploits his baby daughter to enable his shiftlessness (“The Lie”), and in “Sin Dolor,” the tale of a boy born unable to feel pain and victimized by both his greedy father and the amoral physician who sees only material for a revolutionary case study. Better still is the title novella, a rich reimagining of the story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron, a feral innocent who deserves a better fate than forced integration into “civilization,” which inevitably destroys him.

With each book Boyle becomes a more adventurous and interesting writer.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-670-02142-0

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2009

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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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