Slow-moving and sometimes opaque to the point of confusion.




Third collection from Lott (A Song I Knew by Heart, 2004, etc.) offers 15 mostly sour, sometimes surreal domestic tales plus a self-indulgent postscript.

In the enigmatic title story, a wife begins piling everything in their bedroom into one corner, reacting to something her husband has said about the difference between men and women. She asks him to move his armoire, he reminds her of his bad back, she lifts it with ease and takes it out of the room. End of story. In “Family,” a couple interrupt a marital spat to search for their school-age son and daughter. The children are found, miniaturized and adult, in an Igloo ice cooler; the daughter watches an exercise video while the son channel-surfs. “Close the lid!” the teeny two yell in unison, leaving their parents to face aging and disappointment without them. “A Way Through This” shows another disgruntled couple, but this time the husband has the grace to literally disappear. In “Halo,” a husband buys a blanket so he can sleep in the car after an argument; there, he begins questioning everything in his life. In “Everything Cut Will Come Back,” two brothers talk very obliquely about their parents, who died together in a car accident after their children were grown. “History” sketchily tells of a widow on a layover at O’Hare whose glimpse of a man who looks like her son Roger makes her realize that Roger has the mannerisms of her late husband. In the most effective and dramatic piece here, “The Train, The Lake, The Bridge,” a man who was a boy at the time tells of a horrific wreck that plunges a train into a half-frozen lake during a blizzard. At the close, Lott takes two pages to describe a writer searching for the right words for a story while his family grows older around him.

Slow-moving and sometimes opaque to the point of confusion.

Pub Date: July 12, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-50262-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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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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