Still, a subtle and sometimes compelling vision of Los Angeleno life.




From the latest Flannery O’Connor Award winner, a debut collection of nine stories mainly about being young and black in southern California.

All are told in the first person, usually by young middle-class black women who find themselves in intimate relationships with non-blacks. In the opener, “Melvin in the Sixth Grade,” 11-year-old Avery moves from inner-city L.A. to the suburbs, where she develops a crush on class maverick Melvin Bukeford, himself a recent transplant from Oklahoma, “sporting a crew cut in 1981 when everyone else had long scraggly hair like the guys in Judas Priest or Journey.” As the only black girl in the class, Avery forges a bond with her Oklahoman fellow outsider, only to have this bond tested when the crowd turns against Melvin. Avery returns in the final story, “Markers,” where she’s back in L.A., in her late 20s, married to a wealthy Italian chef and making periodic visits to the suburbs to help her lonely middle-aged mother. In this, perhaps the strongest entry, Avery is stranded in a no-man’s-land between two worlds: her mother’s, which she can never return to, and her husband’s, to which she can never really hope to belong. This kind of deracination is shared by many here: the former stripper from “Break Any Woman Down,” whose relationship with a Greek porno actor is ruined by her well-intended affection for his friend; the photo-lab clerk in “Clay’s Thinking,” who gets in over his head with a wealthy executive woman; and the middle-aged woman from “Bars,” who has an unfortunate encounter with a man she met in a chat room. Johnson’s narrators are sympathetic and engaging, but the tales rely so heavily on vocal performances, with correspondingly less emphasis on plot or emotional movement, that they sometimes seem more like voice-riffs than full stories.

Still, a subtle and sometimes compelling vision of Los Angeleno life.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8203-2315-2

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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