A first collection of 18 loosely connected stories set in a woebegone piece of Maine on the Canadian border. Wuori’s most conventional effort may be “Family,” about an idealistic college professor and his family, newcomers to the town of Quilli. They want to get close to the land, despite the warning from the locals: “Don’t go living out somewhere. It won’t be what you think.” What it is is snow that drifts so high and lasts for so long that they can’t get help for sick children, and go crazy with an almost surreal loneliness. “Fantasy was the only thing left. All else was madness,” notes another character, Pearson, in “Nude,” as if speaking for all of these stories. Pearson makes love to Liselle, his fellow clerk in the tiny town hall. As lives are snuffed out with random violence and the snow continues to pile up, Pearson imagines a different sort of life than Quilli can offer, and salvages just a little of his poetic soul. In “Revenge,” two gunmen kidnap an ordinary married couple. The wife is injured slightly, which so incites her husband that he begins a struggle with the driver, wrestles away the gun, and turns the tables. At first, husband and wife resolve to turn over the kidnappers to authorities, but then the husband shoots one of the men in the hand, beginning a systematic torture of the criminals that ends in their strange and pitiful death. Like many of Wuori’s stories, “Revenge” is melodramatic but effective, pointing up the violence and chaos just under the rational surface of many of us. Wuori’s looniness is his own, and sometimes seems contrived. But cleverness lies beneath his deceptively simple style, and, with an emphasis on the quirks of small-town characters, he often brings to mind Sherwood Anderson.

Pub Date: March 26, 1999

ISBN: 1-56512-223-2

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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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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