Bell follows her two novels (Saint, 1985; The Perez Family, 1990) with a first collection of nine stories that limn the quirks and quandaries of the human heart with sympathy and a wry sense of the absurd. The characters here come from the striving lower class where respectability, while often desired, must always contend with somber economic realities and unexpected tragedy. In the title story, a young woman living with her handicapped aunt and their maid, believing that every seven years we change the atoms of our body, is ready for ``real First Love'' again. She finds and loses it but along the way makes money by feeding false gossip about royalty to the tabloids. Another tale, ''A Pillow and a Rock,'' gives Elvis Presley a twin brother, presumed dead at birth but saved by the midwife who gave him to a childless couple. In ``Nashville Night,'' a still-grieving mother recalls the summer she nursed her dying daughter, who wasn't exactly ``mean but was still a long way from the sweetness that invites disease.'' Saved by a stranger from a marauding gang who later kill a woman at the same place, a wife and mother (in ``Cliff from Chicago, Annie McDermott, and Me'') can't forget the sheer randomness of the incident. The young woman protagonist of ``A Good Thief,'' sentenced to do community service at a home for the retarded, doesn't exactly reform but learns after a bungled robbery with one of the inmates in tow that she ``wasn't as good a thief as she thought.'' And in a whimsical change of pace, ``Mockingbird'' relates how a noted sound sleeper lost and then regained his wife, who had left him to find a good night's rest. Affecting and unpretentiously original: a quiet delight.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-393-03945-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet