A funny and keen chronicler of human foibles, perfecting his craft.




A kaleidoscopic assortment of exact, affecting and richly comic stories from the bestselling Israeli author (The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God, 2001, etc.).

Many of the 30 stories in this collection are almost brief enough—and resonant enough—to qualify as poems. “Dirt” opens as a comic riff, with the narrator imagining starting a chain of laundromats, then becomes a sweet, elegant meditation on love. In “Eight Percent of Nothing,” an apartment broker is unexpectedly roped into learning about the breakdown of a marriage. “Fatso” manages to turn its ridiculous setup—a man discovers that his girlfriend transforms into a crass, burly soccer fan after dark—into sharp commentary on identity and male bonding. None of those three tales exceeds ten pages in length, and brevity is their crucial element. Keret attaches a great deal of weight to what’s said in a story’s closing sentences, which is a risky tactic if he has broader ambitions; he’s yet to publish a full-length novel, and it’s easy to see how one might be unsuccessful. But here he’s in full command of his powers, capable of tackling his chief concerns—sex, youth, family, romantic attachments and detachments—from a variety of angles. That’s true even when he does crack ten pages: In the title story, three friends are haunted by the ghost of a dead buddy, and Keret precisely renders the emotional relationship between each of the men, earning the story’s beautifully tragicomic kicker. He’s not perfect: “The Tits of an Eighteen-Year-Old” is an obvious commentary about male boorishness, and “More Life” is a limp fable about infidelity. But unlike many short-story writers, Keret doesn’t drown his weaker ideas in puffed-up pages of workshopped prose—he keeps his observations raw, confident and direct.

A funny and keen chronicler of human foibles, perfecting his craft.

Pub Date: April 4, 2006

ISBN: 0-374-22243-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2006

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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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