An unexpected delight: tales about an unlikely girl that linger well after the last page.




Frank and telling stories that detail the developing years of young Minnesotan Lillian Anderson.

Former resident of the Ten Thousand Lakes area herself, first-timer Harfenist sets her 11 linked tales against the poignantly imagined backdrop of Sioux County, Minnesota, during the years from 1959–70. Starting when Lillian is eight years old, we are given snapshots from the girl’s life, stories whose perspective gradually matures just as Lillian does. In the beginning, she seems happy with life in her family’s lakeside house. But as the stories follow her into her teenage years, the tone darkens. Her father, who before had seemed merely cantankerous, is unmasked as a bitter and lazy drunk, while Lillian’s mother, once depicted as fun-loving and carefree, looks now to be just a careless mess. Harfenist doesn’t fall into the common trap in coming-of-age stories of making Lillian seem above her surroundings. While bookish and eager to make a life for herself in the Twin Cities, Lillian retains the smart, capable airs of a rural girl while, at the same time, fighting to keep her eyes on something beyond the broken-down chaos her parents wallow in. The sights and sounds of the 1960s creep in around the sides of the narrative—the incessant Beatles tunes, a brother sent off to Vietnam. But these notes are minuscule, surrounded by the immensity of the cold and watery Sioux County landscape with its duck hunters, snowmobiles, and occasional trips to the city. Most importantly, though, the author makes Lillian a memorable character whose forced but confused voice evidences a maturity not chosen but thrust upon her. Unafraid of hard work, but not pining for responsibility, she and her friends drive the long Minnesota roads, chain-smoking and dreaming of their futures: “All you need is a radio in a rust-free car and twenty-nine cents for a gallon of gas.”

An unexpected delight: tales about an unlikely girl that linger well after the last page.

Pub Date: June 25, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-41393-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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