A powerful debut collection of eight stories (two previously published in Story magazine) that are linked thematically: They're all about man and dog, though not in any sappy sense, and with no cute anthropomorphizing. In ``Bill,'' an octogenarian feels closer to her dying poodle than to her own family, and cooks up a grand feast the night before he's put to sleep; in ``Agnes of Bob,'' a childless widow realizes that her husband cared more about his dog, Bob, than about her, and the dog's presence reminds her of the emptiness in her marriage; in ``A Blessing,'' a pregnant woman is disabused of any cute notions about dogs when a trip to the country to buy one ends with an act of brutality. No sentimentality mars these gritty narratives. ``The Wake'' is a wildly implausible piece about a bachelor whose ex- girlfriend returns to him in a box via UPS. He's more concerned with the dead dog now rotting under his house than with her, his obsession offering a deliberately unsubtle correlative to a failed relationship. ``Seeing Eye,'' a vignette about a dog working for a blind man, compares its present life of responsibility to its former life roaming free on a farm. The full resonance of one of Watson's dominant themes (men-as-dogs, elemental in their needs, faithless in their couplings) emerges in the three best stories. ``The Retreat'' finds a few soon-to-be divorced men hiding out in the country, drinking, hunting, sloughing off responsibility. ``Kindred Spirits'' layers the metaphorical relationships in its story-within-a-story about a dog tracking a wild boar in the Florida swamp. The tale turns into a not very subtle parallel to the narrator's present cuckolding by his business partner. The title piece is an elegy to a dog-like life of wildness, freedom, animalism no longer available to men. Watson's muscular prose stands shoulder to shoulder with the best cracker realists, from Faulkner to Larry Brown. (Regional author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-393-03926-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1996

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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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