Every story is beautifully located in place and period, edging toward grace rather than postmodern irony, and peopled by...


Eight stories comprise Rolnick’s debut collection, winner of the University of Iowa Press’s 2011 John Simmons Short Fiction Award.

The opening section, "New Jersey," begins with two stories of loss. "Funnyboy" focuses on a father who cannot accept the death of his son, and Rolnick’s piercing phrases sharpen the sense of unrelenting bereavement. "Innkeeping" follows young Will as he and his mother attempt to keep the family's seaside inn open. A growing realization descends, and Will learns he cannot replace his father, killed at sea, cannot hold the hard world at bay, nor can he choose how his mother will live. In "The Herald," "something propulsive and intense and irresistible" drives a veteran reporter past common sense only to be rescued by a curmudgeonly editor. In "Mainlanders," two teen boys immersed in their Jersey shore idyllic life meet two city girls and get a glimpse of what they cannot have but may someday find off-island. In the second section, Rolnick moves his stories to New York. "Pulp and Paper" contrasts loyalty and sacrifice against a man-made disaster. Particularly affecting is "Big River." Garnet and Finch, a year past high school, companions since childhood, lovers, find themselves expecting a baby. Garnet feels hemmed in by the inescapable demands of incipient motherhood and by the rural landscape to which Finch is tied. Also powerfully emotional is "Big Lake." Molly Cage falls through the ice and drowns, an accident that also costs her husband Jack his arm. Flip, 13 years old and entranced with Molly, is trapped between truth and fear and love and guilt. The collection ends with "The Carousel." Rubin inherited a Coney Island carousel from his father, with the words, "it can sometimes make you happy," words which both charm and become elegy.

Every story is beautifully located in place and period, edging toward grace rather than postmodern irony, and peopled by characters coping with love and loss.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60938-052-6

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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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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