Acker shows that the lives of black girls and women are vast and varied, pushing back on the monolithic ways they are often...



In her debut collection, Acker pays tribute to Washington, D.C.—the Chocolate City—and the changes it went through during the last years of the 20th century.

The 11 stories, each centered on the life of a black woman, depict D.C. life beyond the monuments and government antics outsiders normally associate with the city. In fact, the tourist D.C. is barely background scenery in Acker’s milieu, which manages to go more local without alienating readers who are unfamiliar with life inside the Beltway. For instance, in "Mambo Sauce," a sample of that local condiment becomes the catalyst for Constance, who's just moved to D.C. from Brooklyn, to try to stave off gentrification in her new neighborhood—and the reason she begins to reconsider her interracial relationship. And in "Strong Men," a high school graduation becomes the occasion for a D.C. crab bake. Acker is strongest when she's excavating the interiority of her characters. This is especially true in “Cicada,” which chronicles a young girl’s experience as she participates in her first piano competition, and “Now, This,” in which Acker astutely describes the inner thoughts of Rae, a premenopausal woman who has to care for her ailing mother while coming to terms with the reality of her own aging body. Yet the collection is uneven. Sometimes the ancillary figures are more interesting than the main characters; in "Strong Men," the protagonist is 13-year-old Bit, but her older brother, Ronnie, whose alleged drug dealing, obsession with local basketball legend Len Bias, and desire to see the world puts him at odds with their father and jeopardizes his enrollment at Howard University, is quite a bit more interesting than Bit, who has trouble with boys and best friends. Acker’s exploration of the inner workings of Washington’s black middle class in the title story comes off as heavy-handed, resulting in exaggerated characters that might have been better suited for satire. Nonetheless, the collection ends on a tender and memorable note in "You Can Leave, but It's Going to Cost You," as a father and daughter cruise the city to the accompaniment of the music of its native son Marvin Gaye.

Acker shows that the lives of black girls and women are vast and varied, pushing back on the monolithic ways they are often portrayed while giving readers everything but go-go music in a generally lovely ode to D.C. life.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-936932-37-5

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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