An abundance of fine, sharp moments proving that Leavitt, despite his characters' tedious obsession with youth and beauty,...




Gay fiction’s elegant stylist (Martin Bauman, 2000, etc.) returns with an uneven, mutable collection of nine stories inspired by his deep biographical readings of Oscar Wilde's circle—and by profound sympathy for an aggrieved present-day gay community.

Leavitt moves from past to present, as well as from voice to voice, with the fluid grace of an expert novelist. In the first and most successful piece, “Crossing St. Gotthard,” which originally appeared in The Paris Review, he assumes E.M. Forster’s stately, ironical tone as a group of Americans traveling by train in Italy—the anxious widow Irene Pratt, her two scoffing sons, and their incipiently homosexual tutor Harold—each anticipate in her or his own way enclosure by the long Alpine tunnel. It is of course the tutor's voice that Leavitt rides out: a young man who reads Ovid to distract himself from his charge's Apollonian beauty, Harold cries out in silent anguish: “I belong to a different age!” This could be the author's cri de cœur. While “St. Gotthard” feels curtailed, as if the author had started a novel, then changed his mind, “The Infection Scene,” a long tale that attempts to link turn-of-the-century England to today's AIDS-devoured gay scene, loops and weaves interminably. The subject here is “Bosie” Douglas, the malevolent aristocrat who “corrupted” Oscar Wilde (or vice versa). As he’s following exhaustively Bosie’s coming-of-age seductions and later obsessive litigiousness, Leavitt flashes forward to mid-1990s San Francisco, where a young couple contemplate the politics of infecting each other. He mines deeply the sense of despair in the gay community: hate becomes disease, infection. In graceful, atmospheric love stories such as “Black Box” and “The Marble Quilt,” he introduces violent death of a partner not by AIDS to curious, suspenseful effect.

An abundance of fine, sharp moments proving that Leavitt, despite his characters' tedious obsession with youth and beauty, might be aging pretty well.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2001

ISBN: 0-395-90244-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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