FAMILY SINS AND OTHER STORIES

Throughout Trevor's series of collections of beautifully crafted, acute, and affecting short stories, there has never been that outcropping of self-parody that is apt to afflict the work of prolific practitioners of such a confining art form. Each of Trevor's Fate-shackled characters who loiter into a twilight sadness—or bemused acceptance of Things-As-They-Inexplicably-Are—is a fully realized, breathing being who occupies unique space and time. Here, men and women struggle within the labyrinth of family—with its indelible stains from the past and its present imperatives for predator and prey. In the title story, a grandfather's cruelty is amplified and adapted by a grandson and visited upon a vulnerable girl. The daughter of a suicide in "In Love with Ariadne" lives in the shadow of her father's sin and shame. Then public shame scorches two rural families whose security is community reputation: in "A Husband's Return," family "silence" will deny a scandal, but will also doom compassion and love; an aging couple in "Events at Drimaghleen," whose tragedy was absorbed by respectful and sympathetic neighbors, is victimized by a team of brass-headed journalists to find themselves uprooted, exposed in scandal. Fathers also unwittingly wound children: a young girl is hired out for a hated servant's job while her dear dad gains a longed-for field; and a headmaster's son bears the crushing burden of his family's honor among violent-minded schoolboys. Love, or its souring, is sometimes cruel, too—"unsuitable." A single woman reflects on one brief, long-ago idyll with a married man: "For both of them, the pattern of their lives has formed around a moment in an afternoon." In another tale, a man sent by his estranged wife to discuss future plans with her apparently future husband (who's rather a fathead) turns some screws, boozily enjoying himself in a bar, but at last cannot release his lying, impossible wife—and he doesn't know why. Another fine collection by this Irish author, here centering on the plight of people held fast by the familial network of peculiar tensions that can both hold and strangle.

Pub Date: May 1, 1990

ISBN: 0886194415

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1990

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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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