Ah, this book.
This review was very hard to write. Reviews are usually relatively simple work for me; I read a book, and as I’m reading it I figure out the things it’s doing and what I want to say about those things, infused with various degrees of enthusiasm and/or thoughtfulness. I try to find an angle into talking about the book, a means of bridging the gap between the work the book is doing and my experience of it as a reader.
This book, though. As I read it I kept needing to slow clap (and/or violently weep). I kept seeing its project, whole and intricate and interlocking and beautiful and painfully well-wrought, and the elegant simplicity of its vastness kept stealing my speech. I hardly touch at all, for instance, on how I feel the book is organized into two halves, each heralded by an invocation of record-keeping and story-telling (“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” and “An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition” respectively) that lays out a map for the careful probing of concepts and character. But it’s there, and it’s important, and it’s for you to discover.
Anyway here is a bit from the review, as opposed to bits of what I didn’t put in the review.
I have never been so moved by a collection of short fiction. I was at times afraid to read more. Every single story struck chords in me profound enough to hurt, whether about the love and cruelty of families; the melancholy of thermodynamics; the vicious unfairness of history and the humbling grace with which people endure its weight. Stories so often take us out of ourselves; Liu’s stories went deep into my marrow, laying bare painful truths, meticulously slicing through the layers of pearl to find the grain of sand at its heart.
Make sure to read the Preface too. It’s — bah, I need to stop or we’ll be here all day. It’s a landmark collection from a ridiculously talented human. Let’s leave it there for now.