Heathcock has earned a National Magazine Award for his fiction. This book affirms that promise.



Raw and rugged, the stories in Heathcock's collection push up against the sharp edge of a world where people live and die, and find any redemption hard-won and sometimes bittersweet.

The book encompasses eight stories, all centered around the fictional town of Krafton and its people, with many of the pieces informing one another. Several characters appear in multiple stories, most notably the town sheriff, Helen Farraley. The collection opens with "The Staying Freight," an affecting tale of guilt and burnt-out acceptance. Winslow Nettles, "as sure a thing as a farmer could be," accidentally kills his young son by running him over with a tiller disk. Nettles walks away from his farm, traveling afoot until he's taken in at a nameless town, only to become part of a freak show. "Smoke" sifts through the aftermath of a killing, one occurring after two trucks meet on an isolated one-lane road and neither driver will give way. "Peacekeeper" follows Sheriff Farraley as she copes with a flood and with the angst of a child-murder. She contrives to make the murder appear to be an accident but then brings vigilante justice to the killer. In "The Daughter," a grieving woman cuts a maze into her corn field, and a little boy goes missing, with guilt enough to cover more than one person involved. Vernon Hamby, a Baptist pastor, appears in several stories, most affectingly in "Lazarus." "Volt," the title story which ends the book, is particularly remarkable for its portrayal of the Delmore clan, a modern family akin to the Snopes of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. Heathcock's work is starkly realistic, and his writing is clear and concise and regularly relies on simple declarative sentences. The compendium offers readers a Spoon River Anthology–like sense of place and people, with characters radiating authenticity and coping with fate and folly in an entirely believable manner.

Heathcock has earned a National Magazine Award for his fiction. This book affirms that promise.

Pub Date: March 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-55597-577-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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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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