Winner of the 1991 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, selected this year by Richard Ford: a first collection of ten stories notable for their lyrical accounts of children and young adults managing to survive emotionally in an unstable or painful world. Graver's rehearsals of reality are not always convincing, but they're lovely when they work. Many of the pieces develop according to a theme made explicit in ``The Blue Hour'': ``But sometimes, through a hitch in the mechanism, people stumble upon each other, though the circumstances do not match at all.'' In ``The Boy Who Fell Forty Feet,'' for instance, Graver renders an affecting account of a boy who wanders through the city with the knowledge that his father is dying; a chance encounter at a construction site teaches him to face the fierce uncertainty of circumstance. In the title story, Willa, who lives with her divorced mother (who ``expected the end of the world''), gets to know a blind child and learns about survival. Likewise, ``Music for Four Doors'' places a pregnant woman on the same neighborhood block with a man who's autistic; for the woman, observing and then getting to know the man is an education. In ``Around the World,'' it's the narrator who's afflicted, with an ``untraceable dislodged nerve'' that severely limits her activities. She lives through crying jags to sail in her imagination: ``How painful to see people fooling themselves. In my farthest reaches I go where I have no weight, where weight means nothing....'' The stories here that don't work tend to be arch (``The Body Shop'') or shapeless (``The Experimental Forest''). Even the failures, though, have their lyrical charms. Some of these first appeared in Seventeen, Southern Review, and Street Songs.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-8229-3682-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Univ. of Pittsburgh

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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