This slim volume offers quirky, quick stories that should appeal to those looking for a spiritual guide.


Interview With A Prankster


A collection delivers short stories with a Christian bent.

Mitchley (Breaking Through, 2008) describes the volume’s offerings, mostly biblical allegories and parables, as “shock stories,” and they usually end with an ironic twist or a lesson. The collection is slim; the longest of the 10 stories comes in at 13 pages. The opener, “Having it Out With Myself,” enacts an angry encounter between a man and his neighbor. “Old Abe” leads to a sort of spiritual reconciliation; “Pride” is a parable about a proud man trying to get into heaven with a proverbial ending. “Paranoid Master” imagines the next 50 years of American life with nature upturned by scientific meddling run rampant. The title story relates a prison interview and the confessions of an envious man, while “Counterfeit Salvation” tells of a preacher working undercover at a dive bar in order to save the clientele. The penultimate story, “Destiny,” tells of “a surreal way of producing honey” that comes out of a son’s death. “The Strap,” “Mailboxes,” “ ’66 Dodge Coronet,” and “Gravity of Life” are all shorter sketches of a more personal nature, each ending with its own edifying message. These stories have a feeling of surrealism that is common in parables, using the difference between the expected and the reality of the tale to explain the contemporary world and its spiritual problems. Without the tether of realism, though, the writing is often didactic and simple, and the plotting can feel rushed—many of the stories end with the narrator telling the reader exactly what to take from the tale. Mitchley’s framing in some of the works is unique, such as “Destiny,” which is narrated by a reporter recording a podcast. But it can sometimes be hard to know who is telling a story at any one time, especially in “Paranoid Master.” The morals of Mitchley’s tales will likely land differently for readers, depending on their faith—for some, they will be reassuring and enlightening, but for many secular readers, the lessons will seem overly familiar.

This slim volume offers quirky, quick stories that should appeal to those looking for a spiritual guide. 

Pub Date: May 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61862-263-1

Page Count: 76

Publisher: Tate

Review Posted Online: July 11, 2016

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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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