A colorful, somewhat wicked collection of stories that are touching as often as they are laugh-out-loud funny.


Thirty-four wry bits of metafiction from the eternally ironic Klosterman (Chuck Klosterman X, 2017, etc.).

Billed as “Fictional Nonfiction,” in this we get more echoes of the creative process behind Gen X icon Klosterman’s two absurdist novels (Downtown Owl, 2008, and The Visible Man, 2011) than we do from his tart essays and meandering nonfiction. It kicks off with an interesting scenario in “Raised in Captivity,” in which a nominally successful dude is presented with an existential crisis when he discovers a puma in an airplane bathroom. It’s a bit worrisome that the collection is absolutely laced with confessions—the perp being interviewed in “Experience Music Project,” the dying father in “To Live in the Hearts of Those We Leave Behind Is Not to Die, Except That It Actually Is,” and the guy who swears he didn’t kill those people in “Execute Again,” to name just a few—but they’re acidly funny. Even stranger: The serial attacker in “Cat Person,” who...rubs cats on people, is drawn in glorious noir-tinged prose. Klosterman not only excels at character and dialogue, as the people and conversations in the book seem very organic, but he’s also keen on setting up offbeat scenarios, which often drift toward the bizarre. In “Every Day Just Comes and Goes,” a regular Joe finds himself arguing with a time traveler. There’s a surreal conversation about magic in “Tricks Aren’t Illusions.” A terribly polite housewife hires an overeager hit man in “Not That Kind of Person.” Elsewhere, Klosterman savages political correctness in “Toxic Actuality,” conjures up a band with a hit single that’s superracist in “Blizzard of Summer,” and imagines a death cult in Silicon Valley in “What About the Children.” Armed with everything from existential crises to a robot dinosaur, there’s really something for everyone in this crisp collection of imaginative snippets.

A colorful, somewhat wicked collection of stories that are touching as often as they are laugh-out-loud funny.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1792-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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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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