Pride of place in this second collection of ten stories by Dark (Naked to the Waist, 1991) is given to a tale that has already become something of a contemporary classic. The title piece (successfully adapted for TV) portrays the restrained sorrow of a mother who cares for her adult son as he’s dying from AIDS, and her eventual realization that he—not her buttoned-up cold fish of a husband—has been “the love of her life." It’s the most immediately arresting, though not nearly the most accomplished, of Dark’s knowing, if occasionally slightly clichÇd, dramatizations of romantic obsession, marital discord, and family unhappiness. In “Close,” for example, a disoriented father-to-be wrestles—fairly predictably—with the temptation to cheat on his pregnant wife. “Home” depicts the confused reminiscences of marriage and motherhood of an Alzheimer’s patient being herded into a nursing home. And “The Jungle Lodge” portrays two sisters matured in different ways by a vacation in Peru with their doting stepfather. The more ambitious tales are generally better. “Dreadful Language” encapsulates the whole lifetime of a “judgmental” girl who coolly distances herself from loved ones, marries for comfort, and finds she has condemned herself to a life of unfulfillment. In “The Tower,” an amusing parody of Henry James’s tales of renunciation, a fortyish bachelor encounters at home and abroad an enticing young woman with whom he finds he must settle for a platonic friendship. The story even apes James’s penchant for injecting workaday metaphors (“Clara, . . . had depleted her tanks”) into otherwise ultra-genteel periodic sentences. And “Watch the Animals” deftly chronicles an unconventional heiress’s effect on her social set, in a story narrated in an eloquent first-person plural voice. Interesting forays into Cheever and Alice Adams territory, with a trace of Deborah Eisenberg’s range of subject matter. A generally worthy successor to Dark’s well-received debut volume. (First serial to Harper’s)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-86521-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1999

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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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