Further proof that Li deserves to be considered among the best living fiction writers.

READ REVIEW

GOLD BOY, EMERALD GIRL

STORIES

A stellar assortment of stories about struggles to escape and connect in contemporary China.

Since her debut collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2005), Li has become a more ambitious and nuanced storyteller: Her first novel, The Vagrants (2009), was a striking cross-section of life in a small Chinese town affected by a young woman’s execution; this book marks no thematic shifts, but the writing is slyer and deeper. The opening story, “Kindness,” is a virtuosic novella in which a middle-aged woman recalls relationships with two crucial women in her life: a retired schoolteacher who provided a haven during the narrator’s difficult childhood and the army lieutenant whose treatment of her veered from tenderness to humiliation. The narrator, writing as a 40-something, is shaken and isolated by her experiences, but also intriguingly self-aware, and Li skillfully balances this insecurity and self-regard. The remaining eight stories are shorter but no less powerful. In “Prison,” a woman moves back to China from America to monitor the surrogate carrying her baby, opening up questions about servitude, class and parenthood. In “House Fire,” a group of women gain celebrity for a public crusade against infidelity, but their confidence in their cause is unsettled when a timid man arrives for help. In “The Proprietress,” a woman running a store near a prison arrogantly basks in the power she wields over her patrons. In the closing title story, a young man and women are pressured into an untenable but inevitable relationship. The prevailing emotion among Li’s characters is entrapment: They are routinely feeling locked into relationships or predicaments, sometimes by the state, but usually by family or their own lack of will.

Further proof that Li deserves to be considered among the best living fiction writers.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6813-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more