Bluntly powerful but deeply nuanced stories from a unique voice in American fiction.




An unsettling group portrait of victimized young women whose survival on the margins of American life is its own best, or worst, reward.

Boasting three new stories and selections from Girls in the Grass (1991) and First, Body (1997), this overview captures Thon at her tough, unremittingly intense, unflinching best. In settings ranging from Native American Montana to blue-collar Boston to a Georgia plantation in the 1850s, we are ushered into a bleak world of hard backseat sex and trailer-park traumas, unreported killings and numbing Vietnam flashbacks, heartless punishments and backcountry skirmishes that wouldn't be out of place on Elmore Leonard's Kentucky-set F/X series, Justified. "You have to believe something's going to happen" says the protagonist of one of the earliest stories, Iona Moon, but what happens in this book never lives up to her vision of bright lights illuminating the night. "Father, Lover, Deadman, Dreamer" is about a teenage girl who drunkenly runs over a Native American man and is forever haunted by efforts to conceal the crime. "Heavenly Creatures" is a multipart mini-epic about three half-siblings with different fathers and a mother in prison for fencing stolen bicycles. In "Punishment," a young female slave who witnesses a rape kills the baby she is brought in to nurse. Thon writes in short, jabbing, bruising sentences, never letting up on her verbal attack. Her words can be fiercely poetic or streaked with mysticism. If there's a drawback to her stories (she also has written four novels), it's that her thin-hipped, flat-chested girls are largely interchangeable. Only the source of their psychological scarring changes, ranging from incest to drug dependence to missing and/or alcoholic fathers and mothers. But that doesn't diminish the boldness or originality of this increasingly impressive body of work.

Bluntly powerful but deeply nuanced stories from a unique voice in American fiction.

Pub Date: May 24, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-55597-585-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2011

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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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