Although the uplift can get heavy-handed, at her best, Sojourner (29, 2014, etc.) uses passion, high-energy storytelling,...



In this novella and seven stories set in the southwest, the mostly working-class characters struggle to rise beyond their pasts and their own worst tendencies with varying degrees of success.

In the opening story, “Great Blue,” a restaurant worker with a history of “bad choices” falls for a “sweet-skinny and ginger-haired” dishwasher with a master’s degree, a killer recipe for marinated olives, and a taste for drugs. Despite moments of genuine sweetness, it doesn’t end well. “Fat Jacks” is bittersweet but more hopeful as a former computer salesman, now night shift “Security Engineer,” makes a strenuous effort to pull his life together when his ex-wife understandably finds him too irresponsible to trust with their young son. Four stories deal with grief: after her father’s sudden death, a teenager takes a part-time job at a nursing home where she bonds, not quite believably, with a former biker over the Led Zeppelin song “Kashmir”; “Sign,” which has an autobiographical feel given its writer narrator, offers a nuanced exploration of grief that combines love, anger, and a middle-aged daughter’s grudging identification with her dead father; an upwardly mobile Native American college student returns to her aunt’s double-wide to mourn her cousin’s suicide in “Up Near Pasco”; and in “Nautiloid,” the jokey tone of the gay narrator never masks his sorrow over the death of his best friend from cancer. Less successful, the long story “Cyndra Won’t Get Out of the Truck,” about the failing marriage between a Marine who returns from Iraq with a drinking problem and the young wife who gambles away their savings, leans on a message of salvation through recovery groups. And the eponymous novella, about a community of losers on the mend in a semicommune threatened by an insidiously dangerous newcomer, is too thick with serpent-in-Eden, good-and-evil imagery and melodrama.

Although the uplift can get heavy-handed, at her best, Sojourner (29, 2014, etc.) uses passion, high-energy storytelling, and unflinching empathy to break the reader’s heart.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-937226-69-5

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Torrey House Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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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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