Nine varied, lively, and beguiling stories from the ever-improving author of, most recently, Carolina Moon (1996). If you still think southern fiction is all about decaying antebellum mansions, miscegenation, and disturbing family secrets, you owe it to yourself to read McCorkle. Not that she shuns such matters—it’s just that her amiably unstrung characters keep reminding us that, even while psyches and marriages are collapsing, dishes pile up in the sink, and sometimes dirty laundry is, well, just clothes that have to be washed and hung on the line. She’s wonderful with beleaguered or comically resourceful women: a pregnant one trying to quit smoking and shape up generally (“Life Prerecorded”); an entrepreneur who markets funerals for “the soon-to-be deceased” (“It’s a Funeral! RSVP”); and, most memorably, a single mother obsessed with her own and her young son’s vulnerability (“A Blinking, Spinning, Breathtaking World”). If McCorkle stumbles with a monologue addressed by a man’s mistress to his wife (“Your Husband Is Cheating On Us”), suggesting the two murder him together, she shines when widening her lens to examine (“Paradise”) the seriocomic chemistry between a New York Jew (Adam) and an Atlanta fashion designer (Eve) hung up on “the North-South thing,” or a young clergyman’s uncertain ministry (“The Anatomy of Man”). She has a deadly eye for endearingly ludicrous detail (weddings and funerals bring out her best), a genius for piquant first-person narration, and a finely tuned ear for the accents of exasperated domesticity (“If Jesus were here he would take that child outside and wear his butt out”). Her stories meander even when they’re comparatively tightly plotted—but it’s always a pleasure staying with them just to hear her people rattle on. The work of an accomplished comic writer who’s continually refining her skills and expanding her range. McCorkle is gradually becoming our contemporary Eudora Welty.

Pub Date: June 2, 1998

ISBN: 1-56512-204-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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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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