A bold, contemplative, literary collection.



In Warren’s debut collection of short stories, people find that life often conflicts with their own inner worlds as they attempt to navigate the tangle of love, parenthood, aging, joy and disappointment.

While the protagonist of “Like Pearls” must deal with a stubborn father and a diagnosis of breast cancer, the sociologist narrator of “The Possessed Palace” contends with her teenage daughter’s boyfriend and the Skate Gang that he hangs out with, not to mention her own conflicting feelings about age and conformity. Other standouts include “The Fulgurite,” which examines the stormy conflicts that can occur between mother and daughter; “Drowning Worms,” a starkly funny consideration of people’s innate depth and shallowness; “It Was Sometime Between Budweiser and Coronas When Seafood Houses First Hit Calgary,” a stream-of-consciousness piece about friendship and disappointed love; and “The Caring Day,” which takes a sarcastic, pained look at the nature of faith and nosy neighbors. Themes of family and disappointment weave throughout, unifying the collection. Each story, however, has a distinct, memorable bent. “The Woodcrafter,” the penultimate story in this collection and the most overt example of magical realism, is memorably weird and showcases Warren’s talent for blending graceful language with absurd situations, such as when the titular character’s hand sinks into a wooden box as if it’s nothing out of the ordinary. His fingers slip “inside the grain, sinking deeper until the entire length of his fingers disappeared inside the pine, his wide knuckles rubbing against its waxy surface.” Like the boxes of “The Woodcrafter,” each entry is crafted with care. Characters nudge up against each other, but they never fully enter each other’s orbit, leaving the reader with the feeling that there is much more to everyday occurrences.

A bold, contemplative, literary collection.

Pub Date: July 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495309335

Page Count: 138

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2014

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