Otherwise, a longstanding literary need somewhat successfully addressed with this collection.



An imposing collection of 35 stories.

Of the 25 stories reprinted here from earlier volumes, the best include a searching treatment of religious experience (“In the Region of Ice”); rich homages to literary masters (“The Dead,” “The Lady with the Pet Dog”); a haunting exploration of spiritualism (“Night-Side”); a nicely detailed racetrack story (“Raven’s Wing”); and one of the author’s creepiest depictions of adolescent sexual confusion (“Heat”). The principle of selection explained in a brief Afterword doesn’t account for the omission of some of Oates’s very best— notably, one of her finest deployments of symbolism, in “First Views of the Enemy” (since reworked in several later stories) and the compact Dreiserian masterpiece “Waiting.” The new stories vary in quality largely according to the degree to which they’re overplotted. “*BD* 11 1 87,” for example, painstakingly builds a wrenching characterization of a lonely, orphaned high-school senior inexplicably discouraged from realizing his considerable potential—then throws it away as the story spins into banal near-futuristic fantasy. The title story, about an aging farmer destroyed when he’s caught in a vice squad sting, almost collapses when emphasis shifts to revenge taken on his behalf—but Oates gives it conviction through understatement and deft pacing. “The Lost Brother,” which describes a middleaged woman’s determined, doomed search for her estranged sibling, works brilliantly, as everything left unsaid eloquently ensnares the reader. Other stories deal all too predictably and heatedly with shattered families (“Spider-Boy,” “Soft-Core,” “The Cousins”) and sexual violence (“The Fish Factory,” “The Gathering Squall,” “In Hot May”). Then there’s “Fat Man My Love,” an ironic remembrance of an adipose film-industry giant by one of his “Ice Blondes,” which does to the memory of Alfred Hitchcock what Oates did to Marilyn Monroe in the wretched novel Blonde. Who’s next? Shirley Temple? Dame Edith Evans? Lassie? Enough, already.

Otherwise, a longstanding literary need somewhat successfully addressed with this collection.

Pub Date: April 4, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-050119-7

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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