Not Bloom at her very best, but impressive enough confirmation of this clever writer’s ability to challenge the way we see...


Nine uncollected stories plus three that appeared in earlier collections are interestingly arranged and recombined in this latest from the Manhattan psychotherapist and versatile author (Away, 2008, etc.).

The first four chronicle the adulterous relationship, then the sad late-life marriage of 50-somethings Clare and William, who find amorous moments together during shared vacations and visits to and with each other’s unsuspecting spouses. Bloom’s plainspoken, witty prose is displayed to fine effect in unglamorous snapshot revelations of self-indulgent, heart-attack-waiting-to-happen William and weary, unillusioned Clare (who sardonically asks herself, “What has it ever been between them but the rubbing of two broken wings?”). Four other interrelated stories span years of familial and less conventional love between Julia, a music journalist who becomes a black jazz musician’s third wife, then his widow, and his son and namesake Lionel, a biracial heartthrob who is drawn much too closely into intimacy with his grieving stepmother. Except for the last of these four, in which Lionel is both further injured and paradoxically healed by his weakness and guilt, this is an original and moving dramatization of the complex burdens of togetherness and independence, soaring ambition and muted resignation. The remaining unrelated stories—which seem to belong in another book—are a mixed bag. “Permafrost” suggestively links a hospital social worker’s compassionate identification with a young girl’s sufferings to the former’s lifelong fascination with the historic Shackleton Arctic expedition. “Between here and here” and “By-and-By” deal somewhat melodramatically with family-related traumas. But in the wry title story, stoic survival is persuasively incarnated in a saturnine widower who takes botched relationships, failing bodily functions, even “women OD’ing on coke in front of their children” phlegmatically in stride.

Not Bloom at her very best, but impressive enough confirmation of this clever writer’s ability to challenge the way we see ourselves and to show us as we are.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6357-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 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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