Beattie (Walks with Men, 2010, etc.) sometimes stumbles, but her mordant and frequently comic depictions of ways in which we...



A generous gathering of 48 stories first published in the eponymous weekly often defined by Beattie’s trademark understatements, ellipses and—let’s admit it—occasionally clichéd situations and plots.

Not all her best stories (e.g., “Jacklighting,” “Windy Day at the Reservoir,” “Park City”) share this lineage. But this big volume includes numerous seminal and influential portrayals of sensitive, self-absorbed young urban professionals succumbing to passivity and indifference, and eventually growing up and into a fuller engagement with the larger world’s claims on their rudimentary attention spans. Fashionable angst and forced eccentricity sometimes blur focus and blunt force in stories that feel insubstantial—a woman’s resentment of her husband’s supposed infidelities in “Downhill”; a defrocked fashion model’s yearning to reconstruct her unhappy life in “Colorado”; and an unattractive woman’s history of failed relationships in “Wolf Dreams.” Yet when Beattie eludes the entrapments of quotidian cliché, she commands a crisp, understated prose style and a talent for manipulating viewpoints into new ways of observing done-to-death conflicts. In “Snakes’ Shoes,” the breakup of a storybook marriage is felt most keenly by a sorrowful, silent brother-in-law. “Fancy Flights” looks at broken relationships through several variously sympathetic eyes—including those of a family dog. Elsewhere, Beattie displays increasingly more complex understanding of the varieties of awakened regrets and aroused fears of the looming presences of age and enfeeblement. In “Janus,” a gift from a former lover stimulates a complex meditation on the enduring, shaping power of the past; and “The Burning House” flawlessly dramatizes the moral awakening of a shallow woman doomed to understand that her closest friends are virtual strangers to her.

Beattie (Walks with Men, 2010, etc.) sometimes stumbles, but her mordant and frequently comic depictions of ways in which we persevere, screw up and usually survive our own foolishness give her better stories genuine power, and make them well worth returning to.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4391-6874-5

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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