As is, not Neugeboren’s best, though a judicious pruning might have helped.




An uneven third collection from Neugeboren, author of seven novels and two memoirs (Open Heart: A Patient’s Story of Life-Saving Medicine and Life-Giving Friendship, 2003, etc.).

A gushing, memoirish preface about “the making of stories” and an extended Note on the Dedication (to a long-lost relative) mar the opening and foreshadow the volume’s virtues and flaws. The best of the dozen stories (“Good in Bed,” about a “word-smart” professor in the preliminary rounds of a divorce; “His Violin,” about a denizen of Century Village in Palm Beach who passes along a family secret in gratitude to his favorite nephew, a lawyer who handled the details of his brother’s funeral; and “Poppa’s Books,” about a narrator who shows how much he treasures his immigrant father’s precious library, only to be chastised by his mother) are cleanly written and close to the bone. Others are disjointed, unfocused and sentimental, like “The American Sun & Wind Moving Company,” about a young man who’s out of his depth as an auteur in the family enterprise of making a movie near an icy lake in Fort Lee, N.J., in November 1915; and “The Golden Years,” about two brothers visiting the set of a film being made in their Florida retirement “village.” The story of a “profoundly inhibited” 40-something divorcée keeps a promise to herself to visit the death camps if she and her children “survived one another” after her husband left (“This Third Life”) is both ambitious and yet slight. The title piece follows a rabbi through a day as he deals with a variety of dilemmas while bearing the knowledge that he and his wife have had a bitter battle. He renews his faith in the teachings of the Torah, opens his mind and then his heart to his wife and community in a transformation that reminds us what a master storyteller Neugeboren can be.

As is, not Neugeboren’s best, though a judicious pruning might have helped.

Pub Date: May 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-292-70661-8

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet