Work from a master of short fiction.



A weighty collection brings together artists and writers, along with their analysts and miseries.

Those who know Baumbach (B, 2002, etc.) are familiar with his universe, one where marriages are temporary while anxiety, miscommunication and half-siblings are forever. The title story is the opener here, a freight train of a tale in which the protagonist’s father spills his guts in an unwitting mea culpa. This dead father was a womanizing artist who conducted affairs throughout his life because “these women were the lubricating fluid that made my motor run as an artist.” The artist’s name is Hudson. Are we intended to notice that the cover illustration, a bold painting much like those described in the story, is by one Harold Baumbach? In fact, Baumbach’s entire collection, with its many references to the difficulties of the creative life and the confusions of human interaction, seems like a roman à clef, although what the key unlocks is less clear. It might be either Baumbach’s personal story, or the entirety of the modern human urban condition. In “Past Perfect,” our hero has an affair with a woman he’d fallen for 30 years earlier. In “Window in the Woods,” a college-age son attempts to seduce a classmate in his film studies class by means of his (the student’s) father’s avant-garde film work. And in “Bright is Innocent: Scenes from an Imaginary Movie,” we follow a bewildered protagonist as he’s thrown as the unwitting hero into a James Bondesque thriller. Baumbach also includes stories from his earlier collections Babble (1976: surreal stories of a strangely mature baby’s precocious adventures), The Return of Service (1979: the protagonist’s father as both opponent and umpire), and The Life and Times of Major Fiction (1987: about dissolving marriages and creativity).

Work from a master of short fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2005

ISBN: 0-9723363-3-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Low Fidelity Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2004

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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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