Eleven polished stories, a few of which have appeared in GQ and Playboy, that insist on their rawness and grit but seem to involve lots of writing-school posturing about cowboy life out in Utah, Texas, and Arizona. Udall's carpenter chic self-consciously draws him to men ``stricken with heartache and fracture and fallen hopes'': men, in other words, who drink too much, live too hard, and suffer ``the confusion that comes with being lost in the world''—though for no- account losers and ``irretrievable failures,'' they sure do speak eloquently. In ``Midnight Raid,'' a divorced and drunk dad sneaks up on his ex-wife's new house to deliver a pet goat for his son, against the mother's wishes. Another regular guy, a handyman who drives a ``cowboy truck'' and is irresistible to women, finds himself infatuated with a pretty girl suffering from a nervous disorder (``Junk Court''). ``Ballad of Ball and Chain'' makes its cynical comment about marriage pretty explicitly: A bachelor-party prank leads to the groom's accidental death and leaves his guilt- ridden best man with only one way to punish himself—by getting married. A teenage boy's perspective lends some innocence to other tough-guy tales: In ``Buckeye the Elder,'' the narrator's sister takes up with a man who charms the whole family, an illiterate reformed alcoholic who's converted to Mormonism; and in ``He Becomes Deeply and Famously Drunk,'' a juvenile delinquent whose father died when he was five returns to the ranch his father worked and discovers responsibility in work as a cowboy. In the most affirmative story, ``The Opposite of Loneliness,'' a middle-aged divorced man discovers real familial joy as the supervisor of a group home for the ``developmentally challenged.'' The macho blather wears thin, and the mystery men aren't as intriguing as their creator might think, but beneath the affected surfaces it's clear that Udall has talent. He remains a writer worth watching. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-393-04033-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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