An emerging master of the short story returns with a collection that should expand his readership.




The mysteries of family run deep in this unsettling collection of stories about blood ties that bind, unravel and strangle.

Though D’Ambrosio is hardly among the most prolific writers of the contemporary American short story, he ranks with the best. After receiving some good notices for his debut collection (The Point, 1995), he should raise his popular profile among fans of literary fiction with the eight stories in this long-awaited follow-up. Through narration that is never omniscient and often untrustworthy, D’Ambrosio challenges readers to navigate their way (as his characters do) amid complex relationships, conflicting impulses and perceptions of the present shaped profoundly by the past. Many of the stories also concern some form of mental illness that tests the familial bonds, though the distinction between sanity and delusion throughout this fiction can be slippery. “Screenwriter” details a crumbling marriage and a budding romance under suicide watch in the psych ward. Two characters claim to be screenwriters. Maybe both of them are. Maybe neither is. The results are as deadpan funny as they are indelibly sad. In “The High Divide,” two boys on a camping trip find themselves trying to deal with the unfathomable, using words to express what words can’t say, in language that explores the emotional limits of language. Within the devastating “Up North,” a turkey shoot reveals the secret truths that husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, men and men, keep from each other. And from themselves. The title story goes behind the scenes of a bondage porno flick, while the concluding “The Bone Game” finds a grandson from a wealthy family coming to terms with his inheritance, and risking everything, on a reckless mission to scatter his grandfather’s ashes. In his range of subject matter and narrative strategies, D’Ambrosio displays considerable creative ingenuity, yet his achievement extends well beyond formal invention. His fictional universe brims with the bittersweet richness of life.

An emerging master of the short story returns with a collection that should expand his readership.

Pub Date: April 21, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-4286-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2006

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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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