SONNY LISTON WAS A FRIEND OF MINE

STORIES

Twelve stories about the gritty world of gyms, barracks, brothels, and loony bins that Jones (Cold Snap, 1995, etc.) has already staked out as his own. The tough-guy approach in fiction has fallen (partly) out of favor since Hemingway’s day, but Jones can pull it off with style and without embarrassment. Most of the characters here are decent working-class stiffs who find themselves swamped in a world of mendacity—like Ondine, the Marine sergeant of —The Roadrunner,— —A Run Through the Jungle,— and —Fields of Purple Forever,— who sees action in Vietnam and cannot settle down to peacetime routines afterward. Instead he takes up swimming as both career and pastime, and travels the world to swim across the English Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar, and the Bosphorus. There’s another kind of malcontent in —40, Still at Home—: Matthew Billis, a depressed middle-aged bachelor who is looked after by his harried mother Margo in their nightmarish suburban home (—The room’s textures and color schemes were a fright, like the marriage of Transylvania and Graceland—). —Tarantula— depicts the gradual breakdown of an ambitious graduate student who accepts a high-school post in hopes of becoming headmaster but is driven crazy by the stress of teaching. —Daddy’s Girl— consists of an old woman’s reminiscences about growing up with her two sisters—one of whom eventually became a doctor, then converted to Catholicism and lived the life of a missionary and nun. Best by far is the title story, an elegiac portrait of Kid Dynamite, a small-time boxer past his prime who can—t bring himself to give up the game that is killing him. Slice of life that will not be to everyone’s taste, rendered with honest realism (and without nostalgia) by one of our finer stylists.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-47223-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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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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