Williams has a facility for getting inside characters and exposing their essential isolation and loneliness.



An aptly titled collection of 15 short stories whose characters can be rather prickly indeed.

Williams sets a number of his stories in the Southwest, both on and off Native American reservations, and we frequently sense nostalgia there. In “The Great Black Shape in the Water,” the opening story, the narrator takes pride in his mother’s strength, for she was able to lift the tail flukes of a beach-stranded whale. She was a member of the Quihwa tribe in Washington state, a band that by the end of the story we’re informed no longer existed. Like many of the narratives in the collection, this is a story about stories, about storytelling and even about myth-making. “Morsel” features a very different narrator, a college dropout spending the summer alone at her family’s cabin and working as a hostess at a local restaurant. She falls desperately in love with Sean, the twice-married chef who provides her with leftover food and plenty of physical affection. Unfortunately, she finds out he’s rather indiscriminate in sharing that affection with others, though by the end of the story she’s no less in love with him. In “Grey,” Williams further focuses on the tension between loneliness and relationships. Here, a college professor shares his love of the ancient Greek poet Archilochus, as well as his sexual favors, with his students. On hearing of the death by breast cancer of a former professor of his, he recalls a time when he was 20 and had an affair with this professor as she was teaching him to love Archilochus’ poetry. “The Limousine in My Life” is a brilliant portrait of the 1950s, when the narrator has childhood memories of live nuclear tests, of tract housing, of his mother’s anger when his father came home one evening having bought a “limousine” in the form of a 1949 Dodge Coronado.

Williams has a facility for getting inside characters and exposing their essential isolation and loneliness.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-886157-94-1

Page Count: 204

Publisher: BkMk/Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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