Pithy turns of phrase and wordplay can't carry a whole collection.


A collection of 42 stories about the complexities of girlhood, womanhood, love, longing, and grief.

Cross-Smith (Whiskey & Ribbons, 2018, etc.) uses many forms—from more traditional first- and third-person narratives to email and text exchanges, plays, and recipes—to explore these themes. Most of the stories are quite short and feature vivid sensory detail; the author has a gift for describing smells in particular and using them to conjure emotion. But the stories tend to lack layers; they are beginnings without middles and endings, as if they were drafted from writing prompts and then polished, by a skilled author, without further development. The story “Girlheart Cake With Glitter Frosting” mimics a recipe. It begins, “POSSIBLE INGREDIENTS: Too much black eyeliner. Roses. Champagne from a can, champagne in a bottle. 'Music to Watch Boys To' by Lana Del Rey,” and then lists more singers, authors, celebrities, songs, movies, and objects for another two pages. “You Should Love the Right Things” reads, in its entirety, “Not how it hurts when you press down on a yellowish-blue, purple-black bruise, but the feeling you get when you lift up. Let go.” The language is rich and rhythmic, the sentiment fresh, but devoid of context, it resonates only so deeply. Even the more traditional stories read like vignettes, constellations of pretty images and ideas that make for scenes, not stories. Sometimes characters recur or side characters from one story emerge as main characters in another. But too often characters who are supposed to be close family, friends, or partners explain things to each other for the benefit of the reader. The book includes some promising characters and premises as well as flashes of brilliant writing and insight, but ultimately, the individual stories and their cumulative effect don’t live up to these moments.

Pithy turns of phrase and wordplay can't carry a whole collection.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1533-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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