A necessary gathering of stories by a writer Saul Bellow rightly called one of the best of his generation.




Hoagland, widely celebrated as a travel writer, essayist and environmentalist, serves up a retrospective of his short fiction.

He hasn't published many stories in his 81 years, but Hoagland is a master of the form. The tales, mostly from the 1960s, are decidedly downbeat. Self-delusion plagues its drifters, carnival attractions and assorted nowhere men like a contagion, and the women don't come off especially well, either. In "The Final Fate of the Alligators" (1969), seaman Arnie Bush finds sexual contentment and a sense of personal "gravity" in his four years with an oft-married laundromat owner in Galveston, Texas. But when her controlling nature emerges, he leaves her and their young daughter and resettles in a dumpy New York apartment—with a bathtub-dwelling alligator. In the title story, from 2005, Jake Thibodeau, a New England Wall of Death motorcyclist on the down side of his career, tests his mortality under the worst conditions—before lowlifes who couldn't care less about his fate. In "The Last Irish Fighter" (1960), a faded boxer named Kelly, surrounded by ropes "wrapped in cloth a funeral black," is stunned and impressed by an opponent with strange moves and wicked sucker punches. Other stories are set in a hospital morgue, a rodeo and on the frontier, where no better fortunes await. For all its bleakness, though, the collection is lifted by the author's perfectly tempered irony and exquisite descriptions. Hoagland is from the old school: He makes every word count, but not in the minimalist manner of many younger writers. These stories don't feel confined, opening up worlds we may never before have glimpsed.

A necessary gathering of stories by a writer Saul Bellow rightly called one of the best of his generation.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62872-448-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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