Fifteen interlinked stories in a salty, tough-minded third collection from Mattison (Great Wits, 1988; The Flight of Andy Burns, 1993). Mattison, also a novelist (Hilda and Pearl, 1995, etc.), has a mordant eye for the details of our wary, confused search for love, and she focuses it here on the uncertain efforts of a group of twenty- and thirty-somethings in New Haven, Connecticut, to connect. There's Tom, who still carries a crush for Ida, a teacher he had in high school. Their sporadic courtship, from tentative dates to the decision on whether or not to marry, threads through the book. Kitty, Ida's roommate, finds herself struggling to jettison her still strong feelings for an old lover, and is not much helped in the process by the lukewarm attentions of a new one. The well-intentioned John, a contractor and Tom's brother-in-law, has his hands full dealing with a turbulent family, including his brothers Eugene (who works with the local down-and-out) and Cameron (an obnoxious, quarrelsome lawyer), and with his aged father. There's also Marta, a dance teacher who finds herself increasingly attracted to Marie, the mother of one of her teenage students, who in turn is dating the nasty Cameron. The large cast weaving through these tales might, in less deft hands, prove unmanageable. But Mattison keeps a keen focus here on the ways in which we court, seduce, rely on, or betray one another, and the stories, many told in the first person, explore our amatory confusions with frankness and vigor. There's not much interior musing here, for Mattison relies on a direct narrative of events and the complex, if ambiguous, messages that even simple interchanges can carry. Nor is there much sense of place. Still, if the stories sometimes seem exceedingly spare and even grim, they are nonetheless, at their best (as in ``The Dance Teacher,'' ``Apples,'' and ``Sebastian Squirrel''), both moving and entirely convincing.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-688-15109-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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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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