Poet and storywriter Manley's (Within the Ribbons, not reviewed) debut novel—a rural father-son coming-of-ager—could easily have fallen prey to the maudlin and familiar, but it rises soaringly above both, thanks to its author's wonderful timing, eye, ear—and heart. ``The boy,'' as he's namelessly known, is almost 13, and his father, a raiser of fighting birds, has not only given his son the prize cock of the batch but has offered him his first chance to ``handle'' it in an actual cockfight. Patches in the book, without question, labor self-consciously to pronounce and maintain its themes (``That's how it seemed to him, sometimes. The cocks were pure''), but these fall away to insignificance as the reader begins to trust Manley's ongoing skills for what's real, accurate, and observed. The boy's monstrously crude, trailer-trash father, Jake Cantrell, is as close to an escapee from the Snopes archives as you can get, and yet the perfect capturing both of his speech (`` `That's you,' his daddy said. `Just because he's walking around don't mean he ain't dead' '') and actions, right down to the way he gets money out of his pants pocket, makes him anything but an imitation. The same goes for the boy's mother, the Bible-believing Lily, whose grief is boundless at losing her son—now that he's entering puberty—to the crude and ``manly'' indoctrinations of Jake. If Lily is at risk too of tumbling into melodrama, she's saved by the same perfect details and quiet rigors of Manley's art that lift all his characters from the page—including Lily's alcoholic brother Homer—and do the same for the story's events, not only the cockfight but the ghastly later results of it, which few could present with Manley's clean and understated power. Akin, say, to A River Runs Through It—a minor masterpiece, however well-worn the genre, that stands on its own two legs. Strong and fine.

Pub Date: March 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-56689-073-X

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1998

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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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