Hagy’s images of Wyoming are a bit too muted to be fully engaging, but her writing is consistently provocative and informed.



An assortment of carefully tuned stories marked by hauntings, curious incidents and hard Western landscapes.

As the title suggests, few strange spirits appear in the fourth collection of short fiction by Hagy (Keeneland, 2000, etc.). But she’s less interested in conjuring scares than in studying how fear and the feelings of isolation unique to Wyoming affect the lives of her characters. “The Sin Eaters,” the book’s longest and final story, follows a preacher arriving from Iowa in 1889 to serve as a missionary for the Shoshone Indians; his travels are marked by a few lessons in area folklore (like the titular sin eaters, spirits that cleanse the bodies of the newly dead) and a glimpse of the violence that suggests that white homesteaders need his attention more than the natives. Most of the stories, though, are set in present-day Wyoming, and Hagy has a knack for conveying the ominous emptiness of the state as well as showing how small twists of fate spin into larger dramas. “How Bitter the Weather” is narrated by a young newspaper reporter trying to locate a missing local man of Romani descent, and her efforts open up conversations about Gypsy superstitions and her own romantic conflicts. “Border” follows a man hoping to make a quick buck stealing a prize border collie, an experience that reveals others’ cruelty and his own gullibility. Hagy’s prose is generally measured and restrained, bordering on grim, but she’s not without a sense of humor: In “Superstitions of the Indians” she pits a snarky graduate student against the ghost of a woman who haunts the library where he works, and the story functions as both a light satire of academia and a lament for the Native-American culture moldering in the stacks. The author is on shakier ground when she experiments with structure, as in “Brief Lives of the Trainmen,” a series of snapshots of railroad workers in the 1860s, but the more successful “Oil & Gas” shows how encroaching corporate interests reshape residents’ lives.

Hagy’s images of Wyoming are a bit too muted to be fully engaging, but her writing is consistently provocative and informed.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-55597-548-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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