Fine storytelling that achieves universality while remaining rooted in a particular time and place.



Love troubles roil the lives of Mexican-Americans in ten superbly grounded stories.

They live on the wrong side of the tracks in a small Valley town near Fresno, Calif. They clean houses, do maintenance work at the paper mill. They suffer under “the fists of daily living,” and their marriages are “as tenuous as spiderwebs.” Several of the men are gay, which makes an awkward fit with their lives as sons and brothers and neighbors. Nobody realizes this more painfully than Sergio in “The Comeuppance of Lupe Rivera.” His gorgeous acquaintance Lupe has a succession of boyfriends, and when her married lover is stabbed by his wife’s brother, the neighbors try to intervene; those same neighbors stay out of sight when Sergio’s ex-boyfriends harass him. In “The Heart Finds Its Own Conclusion,” Sergio’s tenderhearted cousin Cecilia waits for him outside a bus station in Fresno, but she’s unable to save him from the vicious lover he’s fleeing. The complex negotiations between gay and straight society are depicted with particular subtlety in “Ida y Vuelta.” The decent Roberto had been extraordinarily helpful to his undeserving lover Joaquín, so the latter’s family allowed their gratitude to mask their deep distaste for the relationship. Muñoz (Zigzagger, not reviewed) also looks at parent/child interactions. “When You Come into Your Kingdom” is a moving study in thwarted paternal love: Following his son’s suicide, which he had provoked, Santiago acknowledges their shared loneliness. In the title story, Emilio’s father nurses him tenderly after his legs are crushed in a forklift accident. Connie cannot save her 17-year-old son Isidro, mortally wounded by a motorcycle accident in “Lindo y Querido,” but she does come to accept his love for the boy he rode with, now also dead.

Fine storytelling that achieves universality while remaining rooted in a particular time and place.

Pub Date: May 4, 2007

ISBN: 1-56512-532-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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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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