Unfussy, understated and richly varied stories—a promising debut.




Boggs’s sure-footed debut collection, winner of the Bakeless Prize for Fiction, is set on and around the Mattaponi Indian reservation in Virginia.

The Mattaponi is formed by the confluence of four small rivers, and the author employs it deftly as a metaphorical merging of working-class folks of every race and ethnicity. She braids the stories together with recurrent characters and locales, but the stories nimbly evade the first-collection pitfall of too much sameness. The recurrent figures include Loretta, the caretaker for a cranky white octogenarian named Cutie. Loretta is biding her time and planning her retirement, which she’ll spend on the small, old-fashioned boat that gives the collection its title, a boat being lovingly rehabbed by a solitary guy named Mitchell, who gave it to his ex-wife as an extravagant present and for whom the boat is now both an emblem of lovelessness and the only thing he has to lavish love on. There’s the school principal, also lonesome, who gets cajoled into holding a Career Day, then is flummoxed because she “had honestly thought their county could produce more careers than four,” by far the most lucrative of these being the ownership of a McDonald’s. Her search for broader horizons leads her first to seek out a musician ex-boyfriend who tours the country’s amusement parks with Patti LaBelle, then back home to a sweet-tempered, travel-loving policeman who becomes her beau. The stories are not heavily plotted, and Boggs doesn’t always find satisfying exits, but even in those that seem to tread closest to cliché, for instance the one about the aging husband who announces that he wants a sex-change operation (“Jonas”), she writes with subtlety, empathy and command, so that every page features small surprises: jolts of recognition, pungent dialogue, keen observations.

Unfussy, understated and richly varied stories—a promising debut.

Pub Date: June 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-55597-558-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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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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