The undertow of these dark and seductive tales is irresistible.




Debut collection set in a paradise forever lost to the privileged elite who, in their search for love and retribution, despoil Hawaii’s exotic beauty and indigenous culture.

With a cool, precise narrative voice, Hemmings eviscerates a tropical country-club society populated by fatuous patriarchs, disengaged mothers and bitter kids. What distinguishes these tales of the filthy rich at play is their way of showing the ease and seeming lack of consequence with which lives are ruined and hope lost. The author’s eye for damning detail is unflinching. A girl of ten intentionally swims with and gets stung by a flotilla of Portuguese men-of-war so she will have a story worth whispering into the ear of her unapproachable mother, who lies in a coma, now literally out of reach, after being thrown from a lover’s speedboat; a runaway older brother persuades his sister to help him strip their parents’ plush home (including a marble fireplace), then strands her on the wild North Shore. Incestuous impulses rumble through the nine stories like molten rock on the move, seismic warnings that go unheeded: an uncle makes out with his teenage niece while high on the magic mushrooms she introduced him to; a mother who has sacrificed her own happiness in order to preserve her missionary-family’s plantation becomes jealous of her son’s burgeoning sexuality; a boy lusts after his nanny. It’s a world of lavish second weddings attended by drunken exes and cagey stepsiblings calculating how to divvy up not enough love as it is. As adept with the flora and fauna of her native landscape as she is with the animal kingdom’s most dangerous predator, Hemmings creates an unstable ecosystem on the verge of collapse; the adults believe that they’re happy and that the children can fend for themselves in the lush land, but, in truth, everyone is at sea, where sharks circle and riptides reign.

The undertow of these dark and seductive tales is irresistible.

Pub Date: June 16, 2005

ISBN: 1-59420-048-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2005

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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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