Too elliptical, lyrical—and ordinary—to resonate.




Thinly drawn characters in tales that celebrate the lyrically evocative insights defining women’s lives.

Reflecting a take on marriage that’s become a truism—the women write poems or keep journals, but don’t have careers, their lives having been ordered by their relationships with men as two-dimensional as they are—these 14 pieces range in setting from Italy to the American West. And though Coleman's people have different names, they tend to be interchangeable symbols of women of extraordinary sensibility and the men who either limit them or offer escape. In the title story, a much-married sculptor, a hostage of his emotions and perceptions who has been seeking a woman who understands him, meets a colleague’s wife—a woman who, loving flowers, understood “the delights of loving—who likewise needed, who likewise gave praise but voiced it differently.” The young wife in “Una Bella Figura” is reminded on a visit to the now-aging couple who had accompanied her and her stodgy husband on their Italian honeymoon, of a moment of beauty and freedom before all the compromises of life took over. Another woman, a published poet, now old and dying, recalls in “Discovering Eve” how a meeting 40 years ago with a dying priest, when she felt overwhelmed by marriage and family, gave her the courage to start writing. Others, after marriages fail or become strained, find meaning by moving back to the remote family farm and finding there a man who understands (“Windfall”); by living alone out west and caring for the land because ties of the heart are what matter (“Blood Ties”); or by studying the insects of a swamp (“The Lover of Swamps”). A young girl who spies on her bachelor neighbor (“The Balducci Garden”) as he makes love to Renata, a friend of her aunt’s, learns and understands “the menace, the inexpressible beauty of love.”

Too elliptical, lyrical—and ordinary—to resonate.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-7862-4307-4

Page Count: 174

Publisher: Five Star/Gale Cengage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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