Yates is a wise stylist who knows exactly where he wants to go, but you’ll want to shake the stiffness out of most of these...




In this debut collection, Yates explores, in precise prose, domestic life at its most intimate

Nearly everybody here is looking for a home, be it real or metaphorical. In “Oceanside, 1985,” a young couple with a baby on the way makes plans to build a new house; the protagonist of “A Certain Samaritan” derails a long return trip home by getting caught up in the lives of the Jesus-freak couple he picks up on the side of the road; and in “Persimmons,” a man is actually at home but trapped on the roof, as the ladder he’s just climbed falls away. Yates (English/Univ. of Calif., Riverside) loves accidental meetings, and he focuses on relatively modest concerns and conflicts, though nobody would confuse him with a minimalist. His writing is distinguished by lengthy, detail-rich paragraphs and a taste for bone-dry ironic humor. His work also possesses a kind of academic formality that makes much of it feel overworked, with any emotional resonance swallowed up by the author’s carefulness: The cuckolded art scholar in “Gisela,” for example, visits the young man sleeping with his wife, pisses on his carpet and explains that “the path of my urine shows no respect for that arbitrary delineation of field.” Luckily, the collection is book-ended by two winners. The opener, “The Black Mercedes,” is a powerfully comic tale of a couple whose house-sitting gig becomes increasingly catastrophic after the arrivals of an old friend of the homeowner, who dies almost immediately after showing up, and his lusty young granddaughter. In the title story, a downhearted retiree volunteers to talk to college students about his experiences; the emotional twists that follow as he grows attached to one woman in particular are deeply affecting.

Yates is a wise stylist who knows exactly where he wants to go, but you’ll want to shake the stiffness out of most of these stories.

Pub Date: April 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-55849-525-8

Page Count: 168

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2006

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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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