Six glum stories of brutality laced with erotica make up Valdés’s first collection to appear in English.

The publicity claim that Valdés, a former Mexico City dentist, penned short stories while waiting for patients’ anesthesia to take effect may explain these relentlessly numbing tales. The language (or translation?) is plodding and cliché-riddled and the stories are pulp dressed as allegory. In the overlong title story, two writers, the narrator Javier and his girlfriend, Ana Laura, rent a century-old house in the mountains. In the attic, Ana Laura discovers drawings indicating that there is a hidden cellar beneath the kitchen. Prodded by disturbing identical dreams, the couple access the cellar through an outside well. In an underground chamber, they discover the desiccated corpses of the original owner, Bernabeu, and his wife. There’s also a treasure cache, which the narrator must kill for. Moral? Corruption is its own reward. In “Neighbors,” the strongest of the six, the virtuous Lotzano family, including daughters Purísima and Virgen and son Fidel, buy a condo not knowing that Mephistopheles lives upstairs in the persons of con-man Señor Casquivan, his rakish and drug-dealing sons, siren daughter and slutty mistress. With nary a Faustian struggle, the Lotzanos succumb. Devil’s bargains are not for amateurs. Call girl “Cornelia” is recruited by client Federico to cure his brother’s alcoholism. Since Federico acts out of selfless, if misguided, motives, his comeuppance at the end seems unfair. The motto of “Beat me to Death” is “live by the sword, die by”—krate, switchblades, pistols. “Flidia” is kidnapped by Tornillo, who can’t decide if he wants to get back at her for ignoring him at parties or for being the best lover she ever had. The closing innocuous vignette about rigorous pre-date screening in a crazed Catholic family’s parlor is a welcome relief.

Rather painful.

Pub Date: June 6, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-8646-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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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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