A fabulist remix of the English language and a tribute to clever lexicographers everywhere.



An A to Z collection of atmospheric short stories composed entirely of example sentences from dictionaries.

Designer and illustrator Burrows turns an artist’s eye to these delicate, intricately constructed microfictions. It started, he explains in the introduction, with a single line, culled from the definition of “study” in the New Oxford American Dictionary: “He perched on the edge of the bed, a study in confusion and misery.” With rules about the kinds of tiny edits he could make (changing pronouns, adding conjunctions, etc.), he set about assembling short stories from the bones of example sentences. Without forcing them, he achieves a remarkably diverse set of tales, assembling them much as one would a puzzle, finding which pieces fit together and then organizing them under general subject headings such as "apocalypse, the," "gossip," and "optimism." The stories are very funny, as in “Ten Dollars an Hour and Whatever You Want from the Fridge,” the only story in the "babysitting" section: “I’ll be home before dark. Here’s the money I promised you, a fifth of whiskey, a list of forbidden books, and a bulletproof vest. Thanks, I owe you one for this.” Many are mere trifles, such as “Bands You Probably Haven’t Heard Of” (in the "ego" section). Others are subtly, wryly subversive, as we see in the performance art–perfect “Fifty More Ways to Leave Your Lover” or the acidic “Breakup Side Effects.” Burrows also has a talent for a delightfully askew existentialism, as demonstrated by “Famous Last Words” that may include “Do you love me?” but just as blithely might offer, “Can I have the last slice of pizza?” Still others are calls to action, as in the entry titled “Reveille” in the "youth" section: “Keep your wits about you. Run along now. Run atilt at death. Go as fast as you can. Go, by all means. Go before I cry.” The stories are wickedly short but exquisitely rendered, accompanied by whimsical, minimalist illustrations by the author.

A fabulist remix of the English language and a tribute to clever lexicographers everywhere.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-265261-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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