An intriguing but inconsistent collection.




Hull (The Sun God is a Ham, 2013, etc.) provides a series of short tales in multiple genres that tackle the comedy and tragedy of everyday life.

Each of the stories in this collection delivers a final twist—a zinger that sums up or alters the story in an unexpected way. The adherence to this structure leads to a somewhat uneven collection, juxtaposing surprising stories with predictable, leaden ones. “Three Sisters,” which details a Vermont hike interrupted by a curious black bear, and “Trapped,” about a rescue of trapped coal miners in a small Pennsylvania town, effectively build tension and develop their characters, and both have satisfying codas. Other, lighter stories feel limp by comparison, such as “The Zipper,” about a couple that find themselves lost on a Florida back road, and “Shamus the Leprechaun,” about a couple’s anticlimactic trip to Ireland. A few tales depict chance romantic encounters: “Green Dress” and “Saying Goodbye in Baggage Claim” both focus on surprising trysts between older men and younger women, while “Triage a Trois” reverses the formula with a tale of young, male musician falling for an older woman. “The Runner” is the most successful romance, featuring a divorced main character who finally builds up the courage to ask out a beautiful woman he met at the park. On the tragic side, “A Day at the Beach” sees a man contemplating suicide while on vacation, while “The Shoe” imagines what happened to a group of seven young men and women who disappeared during a freak winter storm. Hull’s prose often relies heavily on dialogue, although he skillfully narrates the interior lives of his characters at times. But the descriptions are generally unspectacular, and the twists often predictable, due to their lack of subtlety; the author might have tamped the foreshadowing down more, in order to better preserve the twists. The author’s longer stories are often his best, as the characters are able to breathe and the surprises can be teased out over a longer time. The shorter tales that make up most of the collection, however, don’t afford such luxuries.

An intriguing but inconsistent collection.

Pub Date: April 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9814956-5-1

Page Count: 276

Publisher: LaMaison Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2017

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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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