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The cover story is about ayoung man dying of AIDS after a blood transfusion – a very sad story, and definitely not for the faint at heart. In order to cheer his dying friend up, the narrator makes a pact with him, to tell each other stories, one for every year, starting in 1901, and always inspired by an event in the year. The choice of event chronicles the mood of the protagonists – sometimes they will choose the invention of the zipper, sometimes the atomic bomb. I guess there is no shame in admitting that this story made me cry. It is certainly the best and strongest story in this collection; the others pale beside it.
“The Time I Heard the Private Donald J. Rankin String Concerto with One Discordant Violin, by the American Composer John Morton” is not as long as its title would suggest; it’s a story about the hidden talents among us, in this case an unrecognized composer of classical music. “Manners of Dying” is a letter by prison official, informing a mother about the last evening before her son is hanged. There are nine variations of the same letter, differing in the events before the hanging – sometimes the son is up-spirited, sometimes depressed, sometimes in fear, etc. A rather morbid theme. The last story, “The Vita Æterna Mirror Company” is a short fable, mainly interesting because of its use of typography.