Inspired by the lyric fantastic, a first fiction collection from novelist Vaz (Saudade, 1994), this year's winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. Vaz's tales rely often on the yeast of her songlike love for language, which can transform her prose, influenced by magic realism, into poetry. ``Sex happens,'' she writes in the title piece, ``the way a pearl is formed. It begins with a grain or parasitic worm that itches in the soft lining until the entire animal buckles around it.'' In ``Island Fever,'' Vaz displays her strong visual sense and her wit: ``The mouths in the crowd, including his wife's, were chattering like bivalve castanets.'' These 12 linked stories about Portuguese ÇmigrÇs from the Azores also rely on the force of improbable events to propel them forward. In ``The Remains of Princess Kaiulani's Garden,'' a laundress with extraordinary powers at the ironing board positively affects the lives of her customers: ``One old lady put on a skirt ironed by Elena and could do cartwheels. . . . A priest who had sent in his collars to be starched preached the best sermon of his life.'' Vaz can induce in a reader a fine and effusive rapture when her characters, inflamed, are carried skyward by their emotions. ``Math Bending Into Angels,'' in this vein, shows how love and an incurable spiritual hunger lead a woman to turn into an otherworldly sprite. In other tales dealing with more worldly matters, the writer's whimsy sometimes fails to persuade: an ease in Vaz's luscious lyricism can, in an earthly context, appear too pretty; with her head turned by metaphor, the author comes across as unable to take reality seriously. At such times, she lacks conviction in the primal logic of an unreasonable fate that guides the major magic realists. She's also more sentimental than they, and her language can seem contrived, lacking a fundamental emotional connection with the lives she describes. Still, when the theme of a story is in balance with its style, the result is elating.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 1997

ISBN: 0-8229-4051-5

Page Count: 169

Publisher: Univ. of Pittsburgh

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1997

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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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