Moving easily between blue-collar types and Social Register summer people, New Age dancers and Old World immigrants, underground poets and Elvis freaks, newcomer Davis (coeditor with Michael C. White, of the American Fiction series) demonstrates an impressive range in this debut collection of 12 stories. The pieces fall roughly into two groups: Those dealing with problem relationships between spouses or lovers, and those in which characters work to recover the past. The relationship stories capture the edgy back-and-forth of couples in crisis, whether Bruce and Lydia in ``Incoming Rounds,'' Hugh and Deb in ``Raccoons,'' or Annie and Doug in ``Sidewalks White Like Bones,'' though their obsessions (Bruce's Vietnam thing, Annie's immersion in New Age culture) sometimes extrude awkwardly. Where Davis comes into his own is with his stories of death, disappearance and loss; here the survivors try to reconnect with the past. In the moving ``AWOL,'' Leon, a Chicago roofer, struggling to make sense of his son's desertion in the Philippines, courageously keeps on keeping on; Sidney, in ``Waiting for Ruth,'' stubbornly maintains his vigil for his drowned lover; teenage Diane, racked with pain over the death of big sister Melinda, escapes into fantasy in ``Growing Wings.'' Those are losing battles; the victories belong to the narrator of ``Shooting the Moon,'' who restores his dead grandfather, a feisty nonconformist, to the family pantheon (a tender portrait, clear as a bell), and the mother in ``Ramparts Street'' (the collection's standout), who celebrates, at her daughter's behest, the rout of two federal agents by her Italian immigrant parents in New Orleans in 1942. Here past and present are seamlessly conflated in a triumph of technique and sensibility. Davis's sure touch with parents and children reflects his greatest strength—an acute sense of what keeps us all afloat in the sea of time.

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-89823-142-6

Page Count: 113

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1993

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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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