Novelist and short-story writer Flanagan retains her acerbic tone and dark vision in this second collection (after Bad Girls, 1985), with results alternately incisive and blunt. An ``ages of woman'' theme loosely binds these diverse tales, whose female protagonists range from terrified children to old ladies on the lam. The stronger offerings turn an expatriate American's cold gaze on English xenophobia. In ``Mrs. Tiggywiggle Goes to Town,'' for example, a struggling single mother resents her best friend, Alison, a normally kindly, upper-middle-class homemaker who nevertheless later cracks and assaults a Pakistani mother and child. ``The Octopus Vase'' shows English homebuyers virtually destroying both a Greek island and an idealistic woman— in a genteel way, of course. Racism mingles with misogyny in the title story when an English editor rants against ``yobs'' in a Greek cafe, then turns his venom on his young lover: ``You'll sit in cafes, wrinkled and ridiculous and menopausal.'' Professional men come off poorly, from the abusive husband of ``When I'm Bad'' to a slick urbanite who treats a young drifter to a chic restaurant meal in ``Alice's Ear'' (that severed appendage is found the next morning in the park). Despite a flair for dialogue and visual detail, Flanagan often fails to make her emotional landscape convincing. ``Bye-Bye, Blackbird'' closes with a genteel Mrs. Dallowayesque character, forsaken by children and a male friend, on her knees in garden mud, trying to rescue a wounded bird from a tomcat. Here and elsewhere, though, the victim is treated dismissively—where she seeks to be dispassionate, the author seems instead to abandon empathy. It's as if Flanagan is in a hurry, trying to let extremity in situation or detail—a purple wedding dress, say—substitute for emotional resonance. A readable collection that chooses sensation over depth.

Pub Date: April 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-393-03803-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995

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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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