Heavy with luminous detail, Moore’s fully-imagined characters and their dramas possess complexity, if not much motion.



Crises in intersecting lives mark the U.S. debut of a prize-winning Canadian writer.

With cool prose and scrupulous observation, Moore assembles a loosely linked group of characters, almost all based in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in a novel which has some of the formal separations and isolations of a collection of stories. Seventeen-year-old Colleen Clark has been running wild and is now in trouble for pouring sugar into the gas tanks of bulldozers in an attempt to save the endangered pine marten. Her mother, Beverly, reminisces about her beloved, dead husband, Colleen’s stepfather. Beverly’s older sister Madeleine, a filmmaker brimming with ideas, impulses and memories of her full and committed life, is working on an all-consuming project. Frank, whose mother recently died, runs a hot-dog stand and is being threatened by Valentin, a soulful Russian thug. Other characters are absorbed in this spreading social pool as Moore’s narrative line loops back and around to fill in their multiple hinterlands. Forward progress is therefore frustratingly slow until late on, and also muddied by uncertainty as to which of these people matter. Instead, descriptive notes and insights are as carefully applied to each character and scene as in an illuminated manuscript. Frank and Colleen meet at a wet T-shirt contest and she robs him of his life savings, heading to Louisiana to find the survivor of an alligator attack that appeared as a terrifying illustration of accidental catastrophe in one of Madeleine’s documentary films. Colleen survives the alligator farm, Frank survives Valentin’s beatings and murder attempts although he is burnt and battered. And Madeleine, well . . .

Heavy with luminous detail, Moore’s fully-imagined characters and their dramas possess complexity, if not much motion.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-8021-7025-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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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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