A brilliant collection of ten replete portrayals of family life, from an emerging storyteller (A Hole in the Language, 1990) whose generous command of the depth and range of her characters' lives suggests an American Alice Munro in the making. Marriage, parenthood, separation, and the desolating variety of loss are the emotional coordinates of Swick's fictional territorywhose geographic polarities are Nebraska and southern California. Her people, all unhinged by the miscellaneous pressures of relationship, include a divorcÇe (``The Other Widow'') surreptitiously mourning the sudden death of her married lover, teenage sisters who (in the title story) expertly play their estranged parents against each other, and a rootless twentysomething (in ``Moscow Nights'') who's just been dumped by his girlfriend and who's drawn into reluctant complicity with his divorced mother's adventurous new lifestyle (including her abortion). Swick's characters brood guiltily over their own failings; many, like ``The Prodigal Father,'' eerily envision the worst that lies ahead of the messes they've made of their lives. Nevertheless, her stories crackle with crisp, witty metaphors and observations (``she feels like some character in a soap opera, only not as well-dressed''). Her men are every bit as convincing and winning as her women. In ``The Still Point,'' a frustrated wife ditches her luckless failure of a husband, a ``repeat victim'' whose espousal of Zen Buddhism leads the story in several surprising directions. In ``Crete,'' a college teacher whose untroubled life contrasts sharply with his wife's history of violence and loss, is brought to a totally unexpected point of empathy with the sensibility he has never managed to share. And in the nerve-racking ``Sleeping Dogs,'' Swick's most ingeniously plotted story, a frightened husband and father discovers that his character failings endanger the family he now knows he loves above all else. Swick's richly composed stories appear frequently in The Atlantic and the quarterlies. One of our most visible storytellers, she is rapidly becoming one of our best.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-06-017254-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1995

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet