A first collection of ten thematically related short stories examining the root causes of historical incidents that involved black Americans and culminated in well-known court cases. Rutgers law professor Troutt appends to the stories an informative Afterword identifying four that were based on actual Supreme Court cases and defending the technique he (justly) calls ``storytelling scholarship.'' The tales themselves, which travel in time from preCivil War days to 1994 (with the O.J. Simpson trial well underway), employ a pleasing variety of subjects, omniscient and involved narrators, and racially mixed protagonists, but several are marred by accusatory climactic authorial interpolations. Troutt's imaginative power displays itself immediately in the opening story (``Glow in the Dark''), in which a slave is tempted to run away by the rope that binds him to a sleeping deputy sheriff. Though the surreal fantasy is itself handled skillfully, the narrating voice uses a thick dialect that impedes a reader's progress through the tale. Many of its companion pieces are much better, including ``The Bargain'' (about a black-white partnership destroyed by segregated housing laws); ``For Love of Trains'' (an affecting portrayal of the afflicted family of one of the Scottsboro boys); and ``Tell About Tellin' '' (a drugged-out young black's account of the 1967 Detroit riots). And in the ambitious title story, Troutt offers a rich, detailed characterization of a Yale- educated black attorney whose uncertain status in a mostly white law firm reaches a crisis point when an unfairly ``deferred'' promotion forces him to undertake a discrimination suit. More dramatic than brief summaries may make them seem, Troutt's passionately conceived tales effectively survey a broad spectrum of American life then and now, and persuasively document a continuing history of intolerance and injustice. An impressive and unusual debut performance.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-56584-326-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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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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