These are low-key stories of great acuity, precision, and poignancy.


Canadian story-writer Willis' second collection, following Vanishing and Other Stories (2010), confirms her debut's promise and extends its range.

The 13 stories collected here include two free-standing but related tales featuring Eddie, a cable installer who in the first, "Todd," finds himself—recently banished and without custody of his 10-year-old daughter—sucked into a bewildering domestic partnership with a crow, a partnership that ends in explosive violence and sorrow. There's also a final triptych, "Steve and Lauren: Three Love Stories," in which Willis makes deft, delicate use of the unreal or magical (a literal hole in the living-room carpet, an extramarital infatuation that literally stops a watch from ticking, an enchanted time-traveling nap) first to defamiliarize a long and apparently stable, loving marriage—to make it strange—and then to persuade the reader to believe in it deeply, in all its messy particulars, and to find it heartbreaking. "Girlfriend on Mars" delivers just what its title promises: it is the first-person lament of a bereft young man, a cultivator of hydroponic marijuana, who discovers only belatedly that his girlfriend and business partner has tried out for a reality-show competition whose prize is the right to blast off (and never return) as one of the first two permanent settlers on the red planet. Other stories belong to a more traditional realist mode. As was the case in Willis' previous collection, several—for instance the title piece and "Welcome to Paradise," about two teens who break into houses for the brief, thrilling feeling of occupying someone else's life—center on female friendship, especially intense adolescent ones looked back upon in celebration and lament.

These are low-key stories of great acuity, precision, and poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-28589-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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