Gaitskill's second collection is a return to the themes of her first, Bad Behavior (1988): Bad girls misbehave and end up as profiles in sexual pathology. For all their naughty sex talk, there's very little pleasure—Gaitskill's women are too brittle and nervous, forever exhausted by their unusual tastes, to take much relish in life. The familial origins of her troubled women are well illustrated in ``Tiny, Smiling Daddy,'' a portrait of a father disturbed by the course of his daughter's life, from sweet, beautiful girl to snarling teen and then to grown-up lesbian rehashing their relationship in a national magazine. A male perspective in two stories is equally grim: The twentysomething fellow who returns to Iowa to visit his injured mother uses the occasion to manipulate his girlfriend back in San Francisco; more troubling is the drunken confession by a middle-aged businessman on an airplane to his shocked female seatmate—as a teenager he participated in a gang rape. Quite a few pieces concern women in their late 30s, often bisexual, who seem incapable of maintaining relationships. The writer in ``The Dentist'' becomes obsessed with seducing her dumpy dentist, a man made uncomfortable by her sexual innuendos. In ``The Wrong Thing,'' the narrator is, at first, dismayed by a younger man reluctant to have sex with her and retreats into an affair with a woman who likes only S&M role- playing. ``The Blanket'' explores a similar notion: An older woman energizes her younger lover by exploring their fantasies. The finest piece is ``Orchid,'' the discussions of two college housemates who hook up years later in Seattle and seem to prove that those in the so-called helping professions—she's a social worker, he's a psychopharmacologist—are usually in need of much help themselves. Gaitskill continues to explore the margins of human sexuality in stories distinguished by their strange terrain rather than by their exceptional skill.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-80856-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1996

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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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