A compelling examination of what it means to survive when thriving seems to be an option only for other people.



The feeling of living on the edge of a breaking point permeates these 16 rich, finely crafted stories.

Set throughout the South, these stories explore themes of isolation and the monotony of daily life, especially when that life is lived slightly apart from the rest of the world. Pease's lead characters are often reaching toward something more: A reclusive family of faith hikes to a waterfall in hopes of healing a sick baby even though it's clear the life is draining out of his too-tiny body (“Submission”); a lonely young mother tries to find connection with her pastor husband’s collection of snakes and the girls who attend a nearby camp (“Primitive”); a college girl engages in a brief, secretive relationship with a cab driver in an effort to present herself as older and worldly (“The After-Life"). Interspersed between the longer stories are short bursts of flash fiction: a page or two at most that capture a seemingly ordinary moment only to reveal the fraught emotion tangled at its core. Though some stories are set as far back as the post–Vietnam War era (“The Blaming Heart”; “Church Retreat, 1975”), others hint at being more modern with mentions of Hannah Montana (“Birthday I”) and medical alert bracelets (“Hearing Is the Last Thing To Go”), yet all revel in the strangeness of uneasy relationships, whether with oneself or others. Pease’s debut collection is precise in its wording and raw and complex in its subject matter. Her characters are all poised at a precipice, though some realize this more than others, and are often surprised at how stark and ordinary the world is after a defining moment. Pease’s prose demands attention and refuses to let readers avert their gazes from the near-constant sense of approaching disaster, a steady thrum of quiet doom. And yet, each story is all the more enticing because the humanity of the characters is not overshadowed by plot.

A compelling examination of what it means to survive when thriving seems to be an option only for other people.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-938235-50-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Hub City Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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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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