A debut collection of linked stories that provides a comprehensive history of a troubled American family. The Goodpastures are the sort of people often thought to be rich just because they—ve been around. Old-style Wasps, they—re actually quite modest in tastes and means. But there’s a fissure of unhappiness running through the family, and a trust fund is needed to break it open: when a shady Florida lawyer swindles them, Stuart Goodpasture goes down to Jacksonville to investigate—and falls in love with Muriel, a born-again Christian. She converts Stuart, who then divorces his wife, marries her, and patches together an elaborate scheme to invest the remainder of his children’s money in a new hospital wing at Oral Roberts University. His children—Stuart, Jr., Brian, Jay, and Moriah—feel betrayed, both by the divorce and the conversion, but they go along with the plan. Brian, Jay, and Moriah, all D.C. lawyers and lobbyists, are anyhow too wrapped up in their own dramas to explore their father’s. But Stuart, Jr., goes out to Oklahoma to do some ferreting—and finds that the odd hospital scheme is actually an even odder oil venture. Then he’s presented with evidence that makes him question his own paternity. Blood is thicker than water, perhaps, yet water’s thicker than air: it’s hard enough to stay loyal to your old man when your entire family hates him, he’s squandered your inheritance, and his second wife keeps praying for you in restaurants. But what if he’s not even your old man? That’s when you begin to wonder what family life is all about. Nicely drawn portraits that ring true, enclosed within a narrative that’s at times badly overwritten (—I was a humble cottage villager who carried in his rucksack daydreams of effortless and precocious success, and I was still trying then to make that quantum leap onto the staff of a senator—). Still, a good start.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 1999

ISBN: 0-8018-6023-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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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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