These precise and resonant stories chronicle humble lives and unspoken traumas, making for a subtle and moving reading...



Ramspeck’s debut collection abounds with flawed families, tense confirmations, and unlikely moments of grace.

In these stories, Ramspeck traces the emotional fallout from failed and imperfect connections. The threat of violence hangs over the proceedings: When recalling his first love, the narrator of “Slippery Creek” recalls her disapproving father revealing his gun. “He almost smiled, as though he thought I might appreciate the gesture,” the narrator notes—and that blend of implied violence and unexpected emotion serves as a template for much of what follows. The poverty-stricken protagonist of “The Second Coming” prays for a miracle to save his family; someone who might be his troubled father or a divine presence shows up with “a handful of wadded-up and dirty bills.” It keeps eviction at bay, though it doesn’t solve all the family’s problems—and these ambiguous miracles and flawed salvations continue as a motif. The narrator of “The World We Know” thinks back on his relationship with one of his sons, whose life imploded after he killed his girlfriend as a teenager; in “Bedtime Story,” the lines between life and death blur for one grieving woman. Ramspeck eludes easy sentimentality: In works like the title story and “Old Places,” he presents an honest view of the irrational violence and petty grievances of childhood. And while he’s able to work powerfully in a small number of pages, he can also evoke a more lyrical mode, as in the opening sentence of “Slippery Creek”: “When I was sixteen and living with my father for the final winter of his life, I fell in love for a time but did not mean to, and I lost something that was not mine to lose.”

These precise and resonant stories chronicle humble lives and unspoken traumas, making for a subtle and moving reading experience.

Pub Date: April 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-943491-13-1

Page Count: 184

Publisher: BkMk/Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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