Still, Orringer stakes out some ground for herself with these compact little pieces about growing up in tough circumstances.




Mordant snapshots of lives under stress.

As a career calling card, one could definitely do worse than this debut collection of nine stories. In the opening piece, “Pilgrims,” a simple Thanksgiving Day visit by a family to the house of some friends takes a macabre turn when the game being played by the children in the backyard goes too far. This dark-tinged flavor is echoed in “Stations of the Cross,” the volume’s climactic story, which has deeper things on its mind—the travails of a Jewish girl trying to figure out where she stands in an almost entirely Catholic small Louisiana town—before going off the rails with a children’s reenactment of the Crucifixion that starts to mirror a lynching. If Orringer has a problem, it’s one endemic to the modern short story: that these are for the most part still lives; they don’t go anywhere. “The Isabel Fish” is an extremely competent and well-wrought tale about a teenaged girl who recently almost died in a car wreck that killed her older brother’s girlfriend—something he now hates her for, a strange variant of survivor guilt. But as convincingly as Orringer is able to travel the strange by-ways of the adolescent mindset, there’s no movement in the story, just the usual onionskin peeling away of memory until the details surrounding the primal crash are revealed. One piece that breaks the mold is “Stars of Motown Shining Bright,” in which a young girl (another one) is made an accomplice by a friend who’s planning to elope with a guy who doesn’t exactly seem like husband material. While it’s not the best entry here, it at least progresses from A to B and gives you a reason to persevere to the final lines; it’s unlike most of these stories, which just peter out, albeit in a quiet and artful manner.

Still, Orringer stakes out some ground for herself with these compact little pieces about growing up in tough circumstances.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2003

ISBN: 1-4000-4111-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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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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