Were these stories actually written earlier than Strom’s affecting first novel? They feel like apprentice work.




The complex experience of cultural assimilation is explored in achingly personal terms in this dour successor to the Asian-American (now Texas resident) author’s debut novel, Grass Roof, Tin Roof (2003).

Its four thematically related long stories all focus on disoriented women desperate to connect with spouses, lovers, family members or territories from which they no longer believe they’ve moved on. “Mary” is an Asian-American film student at a California college, blocked from artistic or emotional maturity by memories of an almost-boyfriend who never cared for her as much as she cared for him, and the father reported drowned when her family escaped from Vietnam, as “boat people.” “Walruses” fashions creepy intermittent drama from the story of a young cocktail waitress and would-be musician (Darcy) continually harassed by the naked stranger who keeps breaking into her apartment. “Neighbors” is a road story, featuring the Vietnamese wife of an American businessman, as she cruises the highways with her young daughter, sinking deeper into introspection and isolation as she scans horizons, looking for an ever-receding “new life.” And in “Husband, Wife…”—which echoes rather too closely the rhetorical texture of “Neighbors”—Sage, a rootless part-Vietnamese singer and songwriter, woolgathers during a car trip with her four-year-old son, over an inconvenient attraction to the boy’s preschool teacher. They’re all vagabonds, even when they seem settled and employed and, to one degree or another, centered, in these nevertheless loose and baggy stories. Strom can write efficiently and movingly about how inconsequential quotidian objects or experiences can rule our moods, and shows an occasional flair for piercing metaphor (e.g., “Mary” climaxes with a sharply phrased faux-biblical parable). But her characters, despite their surface exoticism, are generic, and their inner torments grow increasingly redundant and unconvincing.

Were these stories actually written earlier than Strom’s affecting first novel? They feel like apprentice work.

Pub Date: May 31, 2006

ISBN: 1-58243-343-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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