A talent still emerging and perhaps impeded by a preimagined vision of itself.




You know you’re a redneck when there are so many of you trying to be outsiders that Barnes & Noble gives you your own section in the store.

It’s hard to identify the individual talent of debut writer Davis, this year’s Iowa Short Fiction Award winner, who, in trying to pin down an unexplored Alabama, seems also compelled to use the style of various southern masters as if to prove that she’s in complete command of her literary heritage. The first piece, “Rewriting Girl,” captures the whole idea, in a way—we hear the tale of a ravishing redneck girl, often written about, but finally now writing her own story. “Some Things Collide” is about a girl who runs off to Florida to escape a lump in her breast, only to encounter quicker forms of death and the knowledge that wisdom, too, grows like a tumor. No southern collection, it seems, would be complete without a tale told by an idiot: The only appeal of “Only Ends” is its semiretarded voice suspended somewhere between Faulkner and Forrest Gump. Davis explores the difficult lives of women (“The One Thing God’ll Give You”) in a world where all the men are named Fast Eddie and have clever similes for women’s private parts. Similarly, “Pojo’s and the Buttery Slope” is about a down-home woman with a dead husband who’s trying to find another, in the process learning that owning a man means you’re empty-handed. Davis is talented and flexible, but her vision of the South too often boils down to women acting rampantly promiscuous while they worry about looking like whores.

A talent still emerging and perhaps impeded by a preimagined vision of itself.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-87745-818-9

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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