Eight strange, quietly unhinged narratives by an author who reinvents the fairy tale with her postmodern approach.




A collection of quirky, twisted fairy tales for adults touching on loneliness, alienation and male domination; among the author’s previous projects is the children’s book The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum (2008).

Streaked with absurdism, Bernheimer's odd little tales are told from the perspective of girls and young women who strive to rise above their unhappy circumstances through elaborate schemes. A 17-year-old living alone with her bird-hating mother conducts bedroom experiments with her parakeet, gets a job dancing topless in a suspended cage and moves into an apartment where she pursues "friendships that paid" in one room and builds the cage of her dreams for herself in another. A young wife keeps a menagerie in her basement, including a goat and a miniature pony, convincing herself that her indifferent husband might suspect something unusual is going on. A lame girl finds herself bedridden in a miniature cottage straight out of an old German folktale, where she is cared for by her faceless companion, cheered by a candle in the shape of a bluebird and transfixed by a portrait of a mysterious young girl. Unlike classic fairy tales, these are largely free of punishment and moral consequences, even as they allude to such dark subjects as rape, misogyny and the Holocaust. Bernheimer cites Peanuts as one of her influences, and this collection does have a certain comic-book sensibility. In these stories, childhood merges with adulthood, the former being no less difficult to understand than the latter. Except for an out-of-sync tale of sisters exploring themes of love and violence by acting out scenes from Star Wars, the stories are of a piece.

Eight strange, quietly unhinged narratives by an author who reinvents the fairy tale with her postmodern approach.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-56689-247-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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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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