Squalor galore, for those who enjoy it.




The travails of a poor Florida family, chronicled in a debut collection of interconnected stories.

Buck Jackson, a vicious, womanizing alcoholic, beats his cringing wife Mary Carolyn (MC) while their 12-year-old daughter Georgia and her younger brother Sid cower under the coffeetable. Besides watching their parents fight, these unlovely brats have few amusements other than swimming and picking their scabs, which they munch potato-chip style. After brutal Buck threatens to leave MC on the grounds that she’s no fun anymore, Sid tries to distract him by hanging from the balcony of their 23rd-floor condo. Buck yanks him back but not before MC drives the family car into the ocean. It’s clear that this marriage can’t be saved. Still, life goes on. Georgia’s growing up fast, and she attempts to satisfy her burgeoning sexual curiosity by rubbing up half-naked against her drunken father. He rebuffs her, and MC flees with both children, even though she claims she doesn’t want a divorce. Georgia decides to live with Buck—a lowlife idyll that ends when her mother catches her watching porno movies with her loathsome dad and his repellent pals. Georgia continues to amuse herself by attracting and rejecting every red-blooded cracker within sniffing distance, including Oscar Love, a teenaged Lothario with a port-wine facial birthmark in the shape of Florida (the author is nothing if not loyal to her native state). Buck continues to drink, and smashes up a big ol’ car while carousing with his equally disgusting brothers. But colon cancer stops him in his tracks, and Georgia crashes his Olds in turn, upset when he enters the hospital for surgery. The grieving girl, now 15, consoles herself with a little meaningless sex with a scrawny construction worker. . . .

Squalor galore, for those who enjoy it.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-889330-56-6

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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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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