An ambitious and wide-ranging set of stories that creates empathy for most of its characters due to Tallent's generous...




This collection of stories in the American realist tradition has an adventurous, untethered feeling, with wide-ranging locales and points of view.

The first thing you notice about Tallent's first book in more than 20 years (Honey, 1993, etc.) is its breadth of subject matter. Set on university campuses, in the hardscrabble backwoods, or among much-divorced families, these stories feature emotionally wrenching situations and dramatic landscapes. Tallent probes different points of view—a young man struggling with his dad in a working-class California fishing community; an academic having an erotic encounter with her female student; an aging activist dealing with his multiple-ex-wives problem. These stories explore different genders, sexualities, and settings with skill and subtle intelligence. Next you notice Tallent’s, er, talent as a prose stylist—she writes in long sentences pulsing with images and insights. In a story about a woman painfully and suddenly divorced, Tallent describes the woman's thoughts when scrutinizing a photograph of her husband's lover: "The mouth is done in a lipstick of a crude, carnal, trashy red, a third-world mouth, a Cuban mouth, and Ximena can't help wondering if the lover feels the need to mitigate her whiteness, if the ethnification of her mouth is owed to competitiveness with Ximena, about whom [her husband] must tell stories...." Or an academic observing her student, for whom she’s developed an overwhelming attraction: “Under Clio’s hot gaze the knot of passionate hair at the Beloved’s nape, screwed so tight in its coil, releases red-gold strands flaring with electricity.” Tallent’s assured voice is a pleasure to follow through this book. Occasionally, she tries to cover too much ground within one story, and the reader loses the thread, as confusing gaps of time occur and important characters recede. But mostly, Tallent is in control as she navigates her shifting landscapes.

An ambitious and wide-ranging set of stories that creates empathy for most of its characters due to Tallent's generous imagination.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-241034-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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