The most successful collection of stories to date by smart, gifted, but somewhat detail-obsessed Tallent (Time with Children, 1987; In Constant Flight, 1983, etc.). Like earlier stories, these nine center on the intimate gestures that reveal couples' and parents' and children's dependencies and rebellions. But, here, no one is abandoned or bereft. All the stories are set in prosperous, hip western enclaves such as Santa Monica and Santa Fe. Babies—frequently twin babies- -and teenagers figure in. In ``Prowler,'' a remarried father of newborn twins breaks into his ex-wife's newly leased apartment, and the small preparations she's made for their teenaged son's visit convince him that she's a worthy mother. In three related pieces- -``Black Dress,'' the title story, and the unusually moving ``The Minute I Saw You''—a father and Nicaraguan-born stepmother living in New Mexico struggle to guide the father's teenage son through the suicide of his girlfriend and, later on, the disappearance of his mother—even as they muddle through pregnancy and a difficult childbirth, missing most of the body's important cues. In ``Earth to Molly,'' an American poet who's suffered a miscarriage ponders but doesn't succumb to an adulterous affair while traveling in Wales; in ``Kid Gentle,'' an Arizona woman who's had a miscarriage buys a horse as an act of defiance and ends up saving her marriage and getting pregnant. In ``Get It Back for Me,'' a ten-year-old girl observes the long, tedious, ongoing domestic quarrel between her parents, who are wrung dry by their twin baby boys. This and, to a lesser degree, other pieces are overloaded with unmeaningful detail; but they're also full of beautiful moments whose central message is that intimate recognition is the same as love. Strong stories.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 1993

ISBN: 0-394-58304-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1993

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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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