A well-honed but emotionally distant experiment in the manifestation of character.



A multi–award-winning short story leads this showcase of desert-dry tales of life’s rich pageant.

For his second literary outing, Moffett (Permanent Visitors, 2006) continues in the desiccated vein of stories that find their protagonists at razor’s-edge crossroads in their sad, lonely lives. The widely available and praised title story has been published in both McSweeney’s and The Best American Short Stories 2010. It is the kind of story that short-story artists love, blending the art of writing and the disquiet of real life into metafiction that is clever without being coy. The story is narrated by Frederick Moxley, a writing instructor and unpaid writer of literary stories. His father takes to writing and submitting short stories to those ill-read literary journals, inspiring jealously in the son and quiet grief in the father. Literati-minded folks will linger on the younger Moxley’s hilarious mentor, an insane writing teacher named Harry Hodgett whose writing advice Moffett violates with abandon. “A story needs to sing like a wound,” Hodgett advises. “I mean, put your father and son in the same room together. Leave some weapons lying around.” Other stories are intriguing in their own way, even when they revisit similar themes. “Buzzers” and “English Made Easy” revolve around the internalized turmoil of grief and its aftermath, while “Lugo in Normal Time” eavesdrops on a sodden divorcee and part-time father who realizes in the midst of breaking things around him that he is, right now, in real trouble. Remembered moments of another sort populate the sadly romantic “First Marriage,” in which newlyweds Tad and Amy discover the harsh realities of togetherness as they make their way across the desert in a stolen car with an inexplicable odor of dead snake. The only anomaly in the bunch may be the final story, “One Dog Year,” which re-imagines John D. Rockefeller’s only plane ride, replacing historical realism with fictional gloss.

A well-honed but emotionally distant experiment in the manifestation of character.

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-206921-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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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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