A verdant, multilayered though uneven collection.



This colorful collection, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, illuminates the hyphenated identities of Afro–Puerto Ricans in the Northeast U.S. and on the island itself.

Gautier's (English/Univ. of Miami; At-Risk, 2011) 11 linked stories feature fractured families and intergenerational language barriers. In the raw though tender “Remembering,” Manny has no memories of his mother but learns to adopt his older brother's memories as his own: “He was smarter than I was and he knew we would never see her again. So he stopped my tears with memories.” In the exquisite “The Last Hurricane,” the narrator, a widow raising two children on the island, expresses her frustration with condescending mainland relatives: “[T]hey really don’t care and they don’t know anything about being a Puerto Rican in Puerto Rico anymore….You have become a postcard to them.” Other stories, particularly those that appear in reverse chronological order, feel thin. Nena’s bitterness toward her grandfather in “Aguanile” seems misplaced without a better, more complete understanding of her other familial relationships, which only comes later in “How to Make Flan.” The title story, centering around the meek and vulnerable Rosa, leaves too many loose ends, leaving the reader unsettled until “Muñeca.” Still, Gautier writes fresh, spirited characters with stylistic flair: “By the time the other stores on the block open, the sun will be out and the sky will look like a sky, not the way it looks to Nelida now, like an ocean flung high above her head.”

A verdant, multilayered though uneven collection.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8032-5539-5

Page Count: 140

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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