A thematically unified and smartly arranged debut of 14 stories— one of those rare collections in which the sum is greater than its parts. Borofka's mostly male protagonists approach midlife with a sense of having failed—not just at their professions, or as husbands and fathers, but as decent men. Sex plays no little part in their guilt: The narrator of the fine title piece, a 38-year-old ``man without a conscience of his own,'' realizes that, even though he's survived a plane crash, it does not absolve him of his sins, especially his recent adultery. When a minister's pass at his secretary is rejected, he accepts an unrelated staph infection as divine punishment (``The Whole Lump''). In ``Prologue,'' an unfaithful husband, a failed writer turned insurance salesman, finally confesses to his angry wife. Some of Borofka's stories document scenes from the lives of men struggling to understand the opposite sex: In ``Reflected Music,'' a college student begins to understand ``the complications of intimacy''; in ``The Summers of My Sex,'' the narrator records scenes (unsexy ones) from his erotic development, many from summers spent with his mother's all-female family; and in ``Sisters,'' a narrator reflects on the women in his life: his wife and three daughters, the aunt who raised him, and the reckless mother who abandoned him. Borofka's moral vision includes matters of faith as well: Disillusioned ministers turn up in a number of stories. In ``The Girl on the Highway,'' a crisis of faith results from a young pastor's freak accident; in ``Epilogue,'' an Episcopal priest confesses his infidelity to his pragmatic brother. A typical liberal-secular couple in ``The Children's Crusade'' are bewildered by their daughter's religiosity after she's enrolled in a parochial school—a saintliness that's disrupted by her first period. Borofka steers artfully and intelligently through a variety of collisions of faith and sex, creating a memorable work and an exceptional debut.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 1996

ISBN: 0-87745-557-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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