Further tales from American horse culture by Maristed, whose last novel, Fall (1996), offered more than one ever wanted to know about show jumping. These nine stories, in her first collection, are broader in focus but still suffer from an excess of uniformity in theme. Horses, horses everywhere notwithstanding, one of these tales is an unqualified chiller, stark and brutal in its revelations: “Blue Horse” is told by a young woman, now a homeless prostitute, who was abducted as a girl by a bodybuilder, tied up and abused in every way possible, then dragged back and forth across the country in a nightmare that lasted for years. Only when she began to act more like a lover and less like a victim did her abuser shun her, eventually freeing her by shooting himself—but the damage to her is permanent, and she’s convinced she can never go home again. A more conventional, less unsettling image of a broken home appears in —Rain—: a workaholic whose daughter wants a pony for her birthday can—t bear to tell his wife he’s been booted from his Boston law firm, and so he trades one addiction for another until his family leaves him. Two other stories explore family matters, along with the pressures of breeding and showing horses: in —Barn Swallows,— a brother-sister team with a respectable name in the business are well on their way to triumph at a show, which would quash recent memories of family tragedy—when further tragedy strikes. And in —If Wishes Were Horses, My Love,— a trackside wheeler-dealer, having lost his family and the wealthy woman he took up with, invests all his hopes for a reversal of his fortunes in just a colt—only to have the horse come up lame at an unfortunate moment. Some pieces here are more successful than others, yet all show the coiled emotional power and the unexpected detail typical of Maristed’s particular but also considerable talent.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-679-44410-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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