A wonderful collection notable for its clean prose and tone of quiet, stubborn dignity.



Winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, this well-worked debut collection of 11 stories delineates life’s wrenching milestones: divorce, moving, the death of a parent.

Tomlinson’s protagonists, mostly citizens of rural Kentucky, are adults in various stages of transition, not quite sure where they’re headed. In the strong opener, “First Husband, First Wife,” Cheryl has had two subsequent spouses but still can’t break her connection with the baleful Jerry, who keeps getting her into trouble with the law. “The Accomplished Son” follows Polk, a young army specialist who returns home from Iraq with his pregnant wife. He’s too late to attend the funeral of his father, wheelchair-bound for a dozen years after a gun accident that involved the town lawyer. The rage of war combined with a desperate urge to feel love for his unborn child sends Polk on a terrible mission to the lawyer’s house, seeking revenge for the catastrophe that soured his father’s life, and his own. The two stories that together form the title feature the same characters. “Things Kept” shows sisters Cass and LeAnn grappling with a crisis: They need to raise quick money to pay off the delinquent taxes their dotty mother owes on the family house in Spivey, Ky. LeAnn, who lives in Ohio, hatches the idea of selling Ma’s antique desk to salesman Dexter Chalk, a former boyfriend with whom LeAnn happens to be having an adulterous affair. In “Things Left Behind,” the lovers meet in a motel room out of a desperate need to feel in control of their careening lives. Alcoholic Dex is trying to stay sober, while LeAnn recognizes that the person who’s changed in her marriage is not her narrow-minded husband, but rather herself. Like all of Tomlinson’s characters, these two ring true and utterly human.

A wonderful collection notable for its clean prose and tone of quiet, stubborn dignity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-87745-991-6

Page Count: 170

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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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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