Coleman's second collection (after Stories from Mesa Country, 1991): mostly delicate explorations of the passage of adolescents into adulthood and of married women into the complexities of adultery or disenchantment. In the first section here, ``The Balducci Garden,'' the narrator of the title story comes of age sexually by voyeuristically observing the Balducci brothers who live next door to her grandmother. The central metaphor is an apt one—the narrator breaks stones apart to find ``the hidden beauty'' of their crystalline centers. This sort of metaphor-cum-sketch is the dominant pattern here—Coleman relies on her poetic prose to carry readers instead of fully developing her plots—and, usually, it works. In the second section, ``The Age of Insects,'' the title story is about a woman who, along with her husband, baby, and shallow mother-in-law, comes upon a beached whale and learns of the callousness of humans. In ``The Lover of Swamps,'' a poet—married to a naturalist but in love with someone else—develops ``an affinity with the swamp.'' In ``Glasnost,'' a woman of 40 comes to see how she's ``lived more than half [her] life as a robot.'' The third section, ``Wives and Lovers,'' begins with the delicate story of a sculptor who falls in love with a woman in a house where he's a temporary guest and who learns from her how to see. In ``Compromising Alice,'' Alice, after 15 years of marriage to jerk George, divorces him to consider whether or not to marry thoughtful Henry. And ``La Signora Julia'' is about a famous physicist's student who develops a crush on the man's wife and meditates on how incompatible people manage to stay together before learning, later, that the man's wife has left him. Coleman, at best, displays the easy poetic grace of an Alice Munro. Even when sketchy, her lyricism usually saves the day.

Pub Date: May 15, 1993

ISBN: 0-8040-0964-3

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Ohio Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1993

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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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