A disappointment, especially for a debut writer with such publishing credentials.



A first collection from a young author whose work has appeared in Harper’s and the New Yorker, where he was featured as a 2001 Debut Fiction Writer.

Nesbitt’s ten stories have appealingly cryptic titles such as “Chimp Shrink & Backwards” and “Man in Towel with Gun,” and each presents a wry, sometimes helpless, always young black male narrator. Often these protagonists find themselves in boring but amusing occupations: cleaning up a deer carcass in “Quality Fuel for Electric Living”; running a volatile nightclub in “Thursday the 16th”; or working at a second-tier zoo in the title story. Sometimes—as in “The Ones Who May Kill You in the Morning,” about “The Help” at an obnoxious rich man’s party—these situations lead to danger or confrontation, but most of the pieces feel unresolved. From their “weird” environments, Nesbitt’s narrators deliver ironic jabs at the world: one has a girlfriend who “kisses like a mule biting a carrot,” while another opens his tale by saying, “My dad lost his left leg, so he has to drive an automatic.” Such comic lines are sometimes right-on; more often than not, though, they fall flat—a flatness compounded by the fact that all ten narrators sound identical. They usually drink too much, but they seem to do this not out of need but because their author couldn’t contrive anything else for them to do. Still, the monotony of character is not the problem here: the real difficulty is that in the absence of well-drawn characters, your attention naturally shifts to the plot; and in the absence of anything coherent or dramatic happening in these stories, your attention shifts to the style. Nesbitt’s style, though often bold and winning, can’t carry the whole load, and so the most engaging aspect of this collection is its titles.

A disappointment, especially for a debut writer with such publishing credentials.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8021-1709-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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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