The twelve stories in Bukoski’s (Children of Strangers, 1993, etc.) third collection portray life among the Polish-Americans of Superior, Wisconsin. Anyone who’s ever driven through the Midwest and noticed how polkas supplant country & western music on the car radio once you get near the old industrial towns of the Great Lakes will wonder why there isn—t more fiction like Bukoski’s. All of his characters are immigrants or the children of immigrants, most with a living memory of the Old Country, and each seems adept at the art of confession. The narrator of “Pesthouse,” for example, recalls her merchant seaman father’s long absence during WWII and his increasingly unbalanced obsession with Jews as the source of her scarlet fever shortly after his return. “The Absolution of Hedda Borski” is a dying woman’s account of her taking in an abandoned child to compensate for the miscarriage she suffered as a young woman. “The World at War” describes the generational conflict between Antek Drabowski and his son Eddie: Antek, who served in the Coast Guard during WWII, disapproves of his son’s involvement in the “police action” of Vietnam. “Bird of Passage” is a comic tale of an elderly widower’s attempts to find a new wife (—He feared, when he assumed the “male-dominant position,” that his upper plate might fall out on her despite the Poli-Grip—). The collection’s best piece, though, is “The Tools of Ignorance,” the bittersweet memoirs of Augie (the “Kielbasa Kid—) Wyzinski. Now a bartender at the aptly named Heartbreak Hotel, Augie started out as a ballplayer for local teams and was eventually signed up by the San Francisco Giants, only to end washing out in the minor leagues. Elegiac and restrained, the piece sets the tone for the entire volume. Nicely paced, vivid, and almost obsessive in its attention to a specific locale: Bukoski’s work opens up a world that deserves more spectators.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-87074-434-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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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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