The author plainly knows and loves his city well and deserves a readership beyond his regional renown.




The neighborhoods and nightlife of New Orleans provide vivid details in these stories of a city unlike any other.

Though Hurricane Katrina provides a line of demarcation in this collection, native son Nolan (Higher Ground, 2011, etc.) knows that folks have been leaving the city and lamenting the disappearance of its past (or else wallowing in it) since well before the climactic disaster. “[I]t’s a great place to be from. And a great place to come back to, once in a while,” explains the protagonist of “Le Vie En Rose Construction Co.,” one of the older “selected” stories and perhaps the best here. He continues, “The creative possibilities here seemed endless. And so did the destructive.” The destructive dominates the creative in these stories, though they are slapstick as often as tragic (and sometimes both, in a way specific to the city). Though the subtitle isn’t as specific as it could be, the book has two sections: The first offers 10 new stories followed by 10 taken from Perpetual Care (2008). Black or white, gay or straight, male or female, young or (often) old, the characters exist in what the author sees as a world unto itself, one that those who leave can never really escape and those who return have trouble recognizing as home. In “Hard Freeze,” a virtuoso pianist with a French mother and an African-American father returns to the city to make peace with his late father and discovers deep roots he never knew he had: “Here in New Orleans, with its French history and African blood lines, where he had long dreamed he would melt in like chocolate, he felt particularly foreign,” though he later realizes how much of the city is within him. There are stories of sexual predators and innocent prey, of rich fathers and the sons who have disappointed them, of elderly residents who have seen their city disappear and who often become lost in memories.

The author plainly knows and loves his city well and deserves a readership beyond his regional renown.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-935754-34-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Univ. of Louisiana at Lafayette

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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