Arresting in their otherworldly simplicity, Walsh’s stories are lonely but never sentimental; grief may haunt her prose, but...

WORLDS FROM THE WORD'S END

Unsparingly observant and disconcertingly sharp, Walsh’s (Vertigo, 2016, etc.) latest short story collection is an eerily matter-of-fact chronicle of our own impending doom.

There is loss (literal, figurative) at the center of each of Walsh’s surprisingly playful stories, which read less like narratives—though they are—than like parables or prose poems: surreal in their elegance, too slippery and strange to fit into more conventional bounds. In the title story, a woman explains to a former lover why she won’t be writing him anymore: because there are literally no words. “Communication went out of fashion,” she writes, at “about the same time as we stopped speaking,” but then words, she considers, were always inadequate anyway, demanding more words to explain their damage. In “Two Secretaries,” a recent graduate working—very temporarily, she is sure—as a self-styled “clerical assistant” explains the rift between herself and a colleague, an actual secretary. “We may look alike,” she assures us, “but we are not.” In “Hauptbahnof,” a woman takes up indefinite residence in a Berlin train station, waiting for a person who is not waiting for her. Still, she is, like all of Walsh’s women, painstakingly practical in her delusion: the biggest problem with living in limbo in the station, she reflects, is the difficulty of recharging her phone. Also, perhaps, the price of water. “Exes,” which lasts less than a page, is a meditation on a fraught email signoff; in “Femme Maison,” a woman, now single, expands to fit the demands of her house, feeling, for the first time, both ownership of the space and debt to it.

Arresting in their otherworldly simplicity, Walsh’s stories are lonely but never sentimental; grief may haunt her prose, but it is as a fact and not a feeling. A singular reading experience that leaves a mark.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-911508-10-6

Page Count: 128

Publisher: & Other Stories

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

THE HIDDEN GIRL AND OTHER STORIES

Science fiction author (The Wall of Storms, 2016) and translator (The Redemption of Time, Baoshu, 2019) Liu’s short stories explore the nature of identity, consciousness, and autonomy in hostile and chaotic worlds.

Liu deftly and compassionately draws connections between a genetically altered girl struggling to reconcile her human and alien sides and 20th-century Chinese young men who admire aspects of Western culture even as they confront its xenophobia (“Ghost Days”). A poor salvager on a distant planet learns to channel a revolutionary spirit through her alter ego of a rabbit (“Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard”). In “Byzantine Empathy,” a passionate hacktivist attempts to upend charitable giving through blockchain and VR technology even as her college roommate, an executive at a major nonprofit, fights to co-opt the process, a struggle which asks the question of whether pure empathy is possible—or even desired—in our complex geopolitical structure. Much of the collection is taken up by a series of overlapping and somewhat repetitive stories about the singularity, in which human minds are scanned and uploaded to servers, establishing an immortal existence in virtuality, a concept which many previous SF authors have already explored exhaustively. (Liu also never explains how an Earth that is rapidly becoming depleted of vital resources somehow manages to indefinitely power servers capable of supporting 300 billion digital lives.) However, one of those stories exhibits undoubted poignance in its depiction of a father who stubbornly clings to a flesh-and-blood existence for himself and his loved ones in the rotting remains of human society years after most people have uploaded themselves (“Staying Behind”). There is also some charm in the title tale, a fantasy stand-alone concerning a young woman snatched from her home and trained as a supernaturally powered assassin who retains a stubborn desire to seek her own path in life.

A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982134-03-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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