The slenderness of the narratives belies their emotional strength, revealing the author's deep conviction that the writing...



Oprah protégée Lincoln offers a debut collection of 12 folksy tales delicately and graciously delineating the hardscrabble lives of a series of southern rural characters.

Many of these stories, gripped by subtle violence, concern various members of the Fuller family: Ma’D, once a vivacious young bride, her dreams gradually blunted by the harsh reality of farm life; her husband Hiron Fuller, a WWII vet so demoralized by racism that he returns to the farm an alcoholic failure; and their four daughters. In “Acorn Pipes,” Hiron’s sudden, gruesome accidental death by axe prompts second-oldest daughter Hira to fabricate for the benefit of her incredulous sisters a tall tale about their father teaching her to make acorn pipes. The sisters are desperate to believe that their daddy was more than just a drunken fool, and they hide under the porch, splintering acorns in their hands, as they listen to the neighbors’ malevolent gossip overhead. In “A Very Close Conspiracy,” on the other hand, Hiron relates the affecting details of his own story to his mule, Walter P, on the last fateful day of his life. Oldest daughter Cinny figures in several of the tales as the strongest-willed of the sisters, defying her mother even when they come to blows. In “Wishes,” she dares to pray that her no-good father (Cinny “knew all the secrets of a grown man’s frailties”) will die and leave them all in peace. Other stories, such as “Bug Juice” and “Winter’s Wheat,” sketch entire family tragedies within a few vivid observations by the child narrator; they point up Lincoln's debt to such African-American writers as Toni Morrison and to oral history.

The slenderness of the narratives belies their emotional strength, revealing the author's deep conviction that the writing process itself can redeem the poverty, ignorance, cruelty in her characters’ lives.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-42140-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

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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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