The writing is fluid, the details brisk and vivid as newcomer Jaime-Becerra reveals his characters without judging them...




Ten connecting stories, set mostly in 1980s California, deftly pursue a loosely connected family of Mexican-Americans with little money or education.

Jaime-Becerra’s protagonists are ice cream vendors, tattoo artists, and teenagers navigating American values in El Monte, California, while their old-world parents glower uncomprehendingly at the new ways. In “The Corrido of Hector Cruz,” a young father-to-be is sent out for food to satisfy the cravings of his pregnant wife, whom he adores. The two are barely scraping by on low-wage jobs when they learn that Hector’s nephew—his dead brother’s young son, Lencho, fresh from reform school—must come live with them. Yet what might have been disastrous turns out—as happens often here—a kind of salvation for both the couple and for Lencho, who has no real skills but a lot of heart. Subsequently, in “Riding with Lencho,” we learn that he becomes an auto mechanic, then gets by on disability when his ex-girlfriend scalds him with boiling coffee after growing enraged at his going to night school. In another familial tangent, the young narrator of the fine first story, “Practice Tattoos,” watches in sad resignation as the fights between his mother and sister, Gina, over her boyfriends eventually propel her out the door forever. Later, Gina and her tattoo artist steady, Max, resurface in another eponymous story, trying to stay in love despite the louche types who supply Max’s trade. The characters here want more than anything to do the right thing—fall in love and steer a better course, for example, though in a couple of stories, like “Media Vuelta,” we’re given a glimpse of the earlier generation back in Mexico: mariachi guitarist Jose Luis’s courtship, for instance, and loss of his sweetheart.

The writing is fluid, the details brisk and vivid as newcomer Jaime-Becerra reveals his characters without judging them harshly. Learn Spanish in richly affecting narratives from a strong new talent.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-055962-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Rayo/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

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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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