FIDELITY

FIVE STORIES

Berry has employed all the forms he works in—poetry, the essay, fiction short and long—toward an examination of what it means to be placed: what here and elsewhere he calls ``membership''; American individualism-turned-loneliness seems like the nightmare that puts his eloquence to greatest use. Though only one of the five stories here, ``Making It Home''—a war veteran slowly walks his way out of horror toward his known identity, his own Kentucky landscape—describes it expressly, a cradling arc is the shape most fundamental to didactic art from Dante onward; in other stories as well, all set in the community of Port William (Remembering, 1988, etc.), often there is a rescue (such as that, in the title piece, of an old man from a degrading death-in-hospital) or an unnoticed support (``A Jonquil for Mary Penn'')—a floor beneath which one cannot drop. The negatives Berry creates as contrast material aren't done as well as the lightsome positives: a hapless Kentucky State Police detective investigating an abduction in ``Fidelity'' comes off as a straw man pelted by the Port William members with chalky stringencies. The members' inner darkness—such as the shame and desolation (uncamouflaged by urban noise) that the pathetic murderer/suicide in ``Pray Without Ceasing'' undergoes when faced with mercy—strikes more deeply. Ultimately, the prose of the stories less illustrates the Port William values—forgiveness, dignity, fidelity, community—than provides an indelible, sure- footed rhythm for them. Cadenced, eternal-seeming sentences everything; there is an enchantment to them. The last story—``Are You All Right?''—two neighbors going out at night to check on two others—feels almost like a dream whose template-like perfection you wake up shaken by: inevitable, simple, reaching. Uncommonly satisfying art and vision.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-679-41633-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1992

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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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