O’Riordan’s attention to precise details helps make these stories memorable; at their best, they put familiar scenarios in a...



British poet O'Riordan (A Herring Famine, 2017, etc.) makes his fiction debut with a collection of stories set in the U.S.

Whether he’s writing about travelers arriving there after a long journey or the complex lives of longtime residents, O'Riordan's stories largely center on Los Angeles. By and large, these are subtle fictions, works in which mannerisms and casual gestures count for a lot. The first tale, “A Thunderstorm in Santa Monica,” sets the tone for the rest of the book: it’s about the connections made by lovers and the connections made by strangers, and absent figures and physical spaces play a significant part in how the story unfolds. There are a few horrific moments in the book: a hate crime referred to in passing in “Rambla Pacifico” and a sense of wrongness woven through with memory that leads “’98 Mercury Sable” to a haunting climax. A number of the stories involve characters struggling with the passage of time. The artist at the center of the title story notes that “the years in California had temporarily abated the agonies of ageing,” while the protagonist of “Wave-Riding Giants” recalls a weekly meal at the senior housing in which he lives: “uniform slices of ice-cream-pink meat marbled with white fat laid out on trestle tables.” The collection’s high point is “The El Segundo Blue Butterfly,” which traces the overlapping lives and shifting fortunes of a journalist and the businessman he interviews repeatedly over the course of his career. It’s a work that feels fully lived-in.

O’Riordan’s attention to precise details helps make these stories memorable; at their best, they put familiar scenarios in a new light.

Pub Date: July 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-23955-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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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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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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