An entrancing collection, recommended even for those who generally shy away from short story.

THE LAST ANIMAL

Human predicaments are complemented by the wild natural world in this excellent debut story collection from Chicago-based author Geni.

The characters and events here are unusual and far-reaching, but Geni’s careful craftsmanship renders them immediate and real. Each story is threaded with page-turning, deeply felt tension, yet each has also been planted with a seed of magic in varying stages of growth. In the collection’s award-winning piece, “Captivity,” the narrator works at the Chicago Aquarium, specializing in octopuses, which she feeds in-tank, wetsuit-clad, while haunted by her missing brother. In “Terror Birds,” an ordinary family drama plays out with high stakes on an ostrich farm in the desert. “Isaiah on Sunday” and “In the Spirit Room” explore the loss of parents; “Landscaping” (the seed of magic here growing away from realism into striking lyricism) and “Fire Blight” show heartache from the parents’ sides. Broken families are a theme, and the people in these stories experience the fallout with unflinching awareness. Likewise, Geni is not afraid to make readers sit with an uncomfortable situation or watch characters struggle with difficult decisions. “Dharma at the Gate” follows a teenage girl and her dog as she contemplates a relationship that’s holding her back; readers will ache for her freedom. “The Girls of Apache Bryn Mawr” has an anonymous narrator—the protagonists are bunked together in a camp cabin the summer their counselor disappears. “The Last Animal” and “Silence” center on older characters looking for a kind of closure, and both have a quieter tension. 

An entrancing collection, recommended even for those who generally shy away from short story.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61902-182-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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