This first volume of a planned two-volume collection could almost serve as a primer on old-fashioned Italian short fiction. Ortese (The Iguana, 1987) drifts from one dreamlike subject to the next in these cerebral and enjoyable stories, most related in the same educated, uninvolved first-person voice. The narrator of ``The Submerged Continent'' describes a wealthy family from Naples with three daughters who may or may not be real. ``Torture'' has no characters per se, but it's a startlingly clinical examination of romantic love and the havoc that it wreaks. In ``Donat'' the narrator sits in a dingy room at six o'clock and dreams of seeing a man named Donat in a bar at six o'clock, only to have Donat say that he too has dreamed of seeing the narrator in the bar at six o'clock some time in the future. ``The Ombras'' takes its name from a family—whose surname means ``shadow''—whom the narrator visits, only to glimpse them gathered around the bed of a young girl with a black and swollen body. In ``The Tenant'' the narrator's grandmother shares her room with an angel named Mr. Lin, who eventually grows wings and leaves. ``Moonlight on the Wall'' follows a pregnant woman who is suddenly finding joy in ``the mysterious beauty of being alive,'' even though she is convinced that few people appreciate her. ``The House in the Woods'' is the lengthiest and least successful of these stories. Its narrator lives with Trude, whom she describes as ``the bruised and swollen side of one's own soul,'' and there is an odd incident with two men who are either plumbers or thieves or something else altogether, but Ortese has played the same tricks in a smaller space in the earlier pieces, so this time around they seem elaborately elongated. Interesting, but with a strangeness that sometimes becomes predictable.

Pub Date: June 17, 1994

ISBN: 0-929701-39-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1994

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet