Fourteen stories from the prolific Slavitt (Lives of the Saints, 1990, etc.)—a mix of a few experiments with a number of loosely plotted meditations on the long-term depression that follows a midlife divorce and intergenerational tension. The title story, including footnotes, does a ``Lost in the Funhouse'' Barthian turn in an account of a writing teacher in New York who is faced with urban brutality—both in his own experience and through the fiction of his students. ``The Imposter'' is a lively, inventive story in which the narrator, a writer's brother, learns in life why writers enjoy playing roles, because it creates ``a kind of fun, a peculiar liveliness and intensity, that comes with imposture.'' ``Grandfather'' is a moving story about a narrator, divorced from a still-bitter woman, who returns to attend his grandson's bris and comes to a reconciliation with his feelings. Several of these family meditations work metaphorically and occasionally dazzle with their aphoristic prose: ``The trick, though,'' says the narrator of ``Simple Justice,'' a tale about forgetting the familial past, ``may be not to pay too close attention, to see things without looking too hard.'' Though a few of the pieces seem sketched out without being fully developed, they maintain a hard-edged balance between humor and despair for the most part. While an experiment like ``Instructions''—a list—can be clever and amusing but too smug (``I'm being the smart-ass author, screwing around and playing games''), others like ``Conflations''—an elderly relative mistakes a man for his dead father—capture the rhyme and reason of life's messiness. ``Wherever you are, that's the foreground, and you never get to that wonderful faraway place where lives all come together.'' Slavitt, while repetitive and too leisurely at times, is worth reading for moments such as that.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 1991

ISBN: 0-8071-1665-3

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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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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