As funny as it is, Singleton’s humor has a sharp edge, and his episodic account of life in the hinterlands is as poignant as...



Fourteen interconnected stories depict the strange and ineluctable process by which an odd teenager grows into a semi-serious young man.

Singleton’s (The Half-Mammals of Dixie, 2002) tales of the South are baroque enough to make Flannery O’Connor look like a Puritan—for, in the author’s eyes, South Carolina (his home state) is a phantasmagoria of dreamers, cranks, charlatans, rogues, and simple homegrown loonies. We see the world here through the eyes of Mendal Dawes, a hapless 15-year-old growing up in the small town of Forty-Five in the 1970s. Mendal’s father Lee—who buries fake barrels of toxic waste in his backyard, thinking it’ll deter property development—would probably be considered an oddball in Woodstock or the East Village, let alone Middle America. In Forty-Five, he’s not even an eccentric. This is a town where Mendal’s Little League coach (a mill worker with a penchant for self-inflicted wounds) has only one finger on his pitching hand—which may explain why the team has a record of losses rivaling the old Washington Senators or the earliest years of the Mets. Mendal naturally takes the world he was born into for granted, but there are times when he begins to wonder what he’s doing here—like when he concludes that Lee murdered his mother, or when the village idiot assaults him for working on a Sunday. Sensitive, intelligent, and fairly well-read (his father makes him recite passages from Durkheim or Marx before dinner each night), Mendal is not cut out for life in Forty-Five, where segregation is still a de facto reality and the students sell marijuana to their teachers. But what good is it to know about the larger world if you can’t get to it?

As funny as it is, Singleton’s humor has a sharp edge, and his episodic account of life in the hinterlands is as poignant as it is outrageous.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2004

ISBN: 1-56512-404-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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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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