If only Schmidt had kept her pace smart-alecky and feline-wise, rather than letting it peter impotently out.




Following on her first collection, The Rose Thieves (1990), Schmidt offers a generally lackluster gathering of ten tales, though with a few standouts that are fresh and cracklingly funny takes on modern womanhood

Schmidt is at her top in the first person, and even better when skewering an intimate relationship at close quarters, like one between glowering spouses or between a slavishly resentful adult child and father. The first two stories, both from the point of view of a longtime wife demonstrating bitterly depleted spiritual forces, set a dry, deadpan tone (which is, disappointingly, never regained elsewhere in the collection). In “Songbirds,” Francine, a successful artist reeling from her husband’s rejection, descends on her derivative younger sister Etta’s provincial domicile outside of Venice, where, to escape her overachieving sister, she has married a traditional Italian and vengefully settled for the life of full-time wife and mother. (Schmidt can’t resist bursting into the narrative with righteous exclamations in the face of Francine’s sense of being shut out by both her husband and sister: “What’s more erotic than one’s own darling self?”) In the title story, Daisy, a woman living outside of Boston, with her “rages and despairs listed on a notecard,” falls madly in love with her psychologist, who becomes a best-selling author and darling of TV interviewers. Daisy’s language of exasperated adoration, coupled with the therapist’s weary, textbook explanations, is wildly out-of-synch to hilarious, memorable effect. Other stories take on more somber tones, such as “Blood Poison,” about the neediness between a failing father and his lone, wary daughter, and the final “Funeral Party,” which sorts through a shattered family’s dignity in the wake of an artist son’s suicide.

If only Schmidt had kept her pace smart-alecky and feline-wise, rather than letting it peter impotently out.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-28178-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet