The chef wields his pen with the same murderously winning flair as he does his knives.


Bestselling chef (A Cook’s Tour, 2001, etc.) and mystery author Bourdain (Gone Bamboo, 1997, etc.) recounts in 12 swift-moving segments the sad-hearted luck of an ex-con nightclub bouncer.

Bobby Gold—neé Goldstein—has taken the rap for his slick friend Eddie Fish all his life: eight years for a framed cocaine charge, then employment as Eddie’s debonair Lower Manhattan henchman. But Bobbie is smart (he studied premed and knows just how to make a clean snap of the radial ulna), diplomatic at his tough-guy tasks at the NiteKlub, and even slightly ashamed at this point in his life of having to rough up customers to get Eddie’s late payments. Bobby’s romantic to boot, as he learns when he catches the eye of Nikki, “the sauté bitch,” who’s having trouble not sleeping with bad-boy cooks. Tired of “the business”—slinging monkfish in truffle risotto night after night at NiteKlub—she wants to make money “by doing something illegal,” and, though Bobbie wants out of the mob fire, he ends up taking the rap for her, too, when she steals money out of NiteKlub’s safe and has to disappear. Bourdain has a Bellovian relish for depicting the small-town gangster—pathetic, hilarious, human—and the dialogue keeps the action gurgling merrily along despite the flinging viscera. Bourdain’s favorite locus, of course, is the kitchen: the blow jobs for the best staff meals, the tightly protected territory of each cook in the line, the cocaine-snorting chef and hostess in the backroom. With a few short, sharp strokes, he delineates fully fleshed, deeply flawed, powerfully sympathetic characters. Set aside the plot: Bourdain’s dialogue is worth the price of the meal, as in the scene at a Manhattan restaurant when “citizen of the world” Eddie questions every item on the cryptic menu, to the mortification of his waiter: “Wasabi . . . Wasabi . . . Was that a good thing or a bad thing?”

The chef wields his pen with the same murderously winning flair as he does his knives.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-58234-233-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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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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