Elegant, worldly-wise and as captivating as the city it celebrates.



The author of Venetian Stories (2003) returns with another enchanting tribute to la Serenissima.

An American who has lived in Venice for more than 30 years, Rylands writes with the simplicity—the apparent transparency—of someone experiencing a world in translation, but she is a singularly perceptive outsider, and her portrait of Venice is finely nuanced. She conveys whole life stories in a few lovely sentences, and she reveals all the charming truths buried within small, inconspicuous encounters. Characters flit through the collection, sometimes in a starring role, sometimes mentioned in passing—just like in life. “Restoration”—a story of love, fate and a crumbling palazzo—balances the vicissitudes of reality with fairy-tale undertones, and “Vocation” offers a similar mix of the provident and the pragmatic. “Design” is a sharply hilarious but not unkind portrait of new money triumphant. “Fortune” is a priceless little comedy of manners, a gem that would shine in any setting. Indeed, each entry in this volume stands on its own as a well-crafted and entertaining work of short fiction, but it’s only in viewing the collection as a whole that one appreciates the grand scope of Rylands’s project. With these subtly intertwined stories, she offers both a telling vision of Venice’s current state of entropy and a carefully hopeful glimpse of its future. Many of the characters in these stories leave Venice, but a few of them return. Foreigners and arrivistes are ejected, but some are embraced. Considered altogether, these stories suggest that the past can only survive when it’s married to the future, and that the real wonder of Venice is not its network of canals but its community of people—noble, flawed, loving, spiteful, sad, gracious, interdependent and wholly human.

Elegant, worldly-wise and as captivating as the city it celebrates.

Pub Date: Nov. 22, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-42341-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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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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