Willard, a poet, essayist, and well-known children's author, floats her second novel for adults (Things Invisible to See, 1985) down a stream that is both real and only imagined, a place where water can sustain you—or let you sink like a stone. Jessie Woolman grew up in Drowning Bear, Wisconsin, and settled in Ann Arbor to marry Henry—a man who owned a museum of natural artifacts, gemstones, fossils, and an indoor stream where fish could swim into view and then vanish, hidden by the floor. Henry is gone now. The museum is gathering dust. And Jessie's two daughters, Martha and Ellen, wonder how best to care for their aging mother, whose memory works like those museum fish—there one minute, gone the next. Martha is inclined toward accepting the offer of local businessman Harvey Mack, who wants to buy the museum property for a tidy sum and develop a shopping mall. Ellen, still recovering from her own husband's recent death, just wants to hang on. Enter Sam Theopolis, a waiter and unlikely savior with a red ponytail. Sam moves in to help care for Jessie and soon has plans to reopen the museum. It all seems too good to be true and, naturally, it is. Sam is taken to jail, charged with an unthinkable crime. Ellen is desolate. Jessie grows further confused. All seems lost—until the truth prevails, clear as water. Willard does for her Michigan setting what Alice Hoffman did for Florida in Turtle Moon, making the natural world loom larger—and more magical—than life. Every toad in the rushes has a secret. Any fossil might bear the footprint of a ghost. At times, too many symbols and portents distract from the story, but, ultimately, Willard's good-hearted, quirky characters win the show. Life and death, water and wings—what Willard conjures nicely here is a tale about family survival, the riskiest kind of magic.

Pub Date: May 12, 1993

ISBN: 0-679-40702-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

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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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