Workmanlike, from an inspired source.




Rhoda Manning is resurrected once again in a two-part collection.

The first half is comprised of Rhoda stories, sure to please fans of the many already-existing volumes of such (Collected Stories, 2000, etc.). The title story is told from a very young Rhoda’s point of view on her first abortive hunting trip, while an older Rhoda announces (in “Entropy”) that “My name is Rhoda Manning and sometimes I think too much”—though this doesn’t stop her from expounding on several decades of cross-generational substance abuse. “A Christmas in Wyoming” and “On the Wind River in Wyoming” are largely about Rhoda’s father: he moves to Casper, and, when the family visits, he’s the perfect excuse to explore family tension. After Daddy dies, Rhoda goes on an expedition (“The Golden Bough)” to pick a branch that will let her talk to him, but it’s the Demerol she’s given after a fall that summons him. In the second half, there are no Rhoda stories at all, although with Gilchrist everything is arguably Rhoda. In “Gotterdammerung, in Which Nora Jane and Freddy Harwood Confront Evil in a World They Never Made,” condo fees, the local health club, and a band of international zealots collide in a tale set close enough to 9/11 (on 9/13) that an author’s note is needed. “The Abortion” of two small-town teenagers becomes a bit of rhetoric reflecting the values of their provincial families’ lives and decisions. And in “Remorse,” a gay Arkansas hairdresser is forced to confront the degree of meaning in his life when a client dies for the beauty he realizes he has helped give her. Gilchrist, as always, is clever and wise, and never smarter than when Rhoda thinks: “I’d better start trying to teach them what I know. Every generation has things that will never be known again unless it is told or written down.”

Workmanlike, from an inspired source.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2002

ISBN: 0-316-17358-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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