Sporadic enjoyment is to be had, but too many of the sketches seem like back-file scrapings and unfinished outlines for...




The prolific noir-ist (Wyoming, 2000, etc.) spits out his first “major” story collection.

Although the settings stretch from Idaho or Havana on to the dangerous anonymity of Anytown USA, the themes are remarkably similar without getting monotonous—usually. The title story is a simple piece of work about a Japanese family, running a motel in Idaho in the 1960s, who are surprised to see a black man check in. It’s an unusual point of view for Gifford—a 13-year-old girl—but one he pulls off well. In “The Old Days,” an aged gangster goes to Havana to look halfheartedly for his old love and the son they had together. As he drinks in a sidewalk café, a palpable sense of toughened nostalgia wafts through the pages. More true to Giffordian form are pieces like “The Big Love of Cherry Layne.” Good pulpy fun, it’s a daytime talk show–esque sliver about a babysitter who falls in love with her charge, eight years her junior. When he’s barely a teenager, Cherry seduces him. It all ends with a runaway, a car, the police, a gun and a newspaper clipping. The volume climaxes with the novella “The Lost and the Lonely.” Dedicated “to the memories of Douglas Sirk and James Ross,” it’s another ode to fast-living, classic cars, and crime melodrama. There’s a club called The Pharaoh’s Flame, a couple who go by the names of Kiss and Torch, and lines like “You always was hot shit around here, Torch. But bein’ a high school football stud don’t go very far in the real world, does it?” The ghosts of Gifford’s muses, Sailor and Lula, and their fiery dialogue are everywhere, even though the two are nowhere to be seen.

Sporadic enjoyment is to be had, but too many of the sketches seem like back-file scrapings and unfinished outlines for solid power. Gifford provides some ecstatic highs and lows, but little remains afterward.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-58322-470-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seven Stories

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2002

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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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