Although relatively simple in narrative structure, Griner’s stories shine a glaring light on the complexities of human...



Twenty-two stories ranging in length from a few paragraphs to 20 or so pages and in style from the freakishly absurd to the heartbreakingly realistic.

Griner excels in his longer stories, one of which—“On Board the SS Irresponsible”—borders on being a masterpiece. A father, Buddy (the narrator), comes to pick up his three children for a day’s adventure. His former wife, Clare, has custody, so this is a special time for the dad, and he wants to make it special for his children as well. They go out and, somewhat to the chagrin of the kids, do not much of anything—paint SS Irresponsible on the gunwale of his boat, picnic, and fish a little. These mundane activities are erased by a horrific tragedy that, at the end of the story, Buddy must explain to Clare. With great subtlety, Griner captures every nuance of Buddy’s emotional life, from his resentment of Clare to his awkward love for his children to his understandable dread of facing his own moral failure. Another realistic story is “Newbie Was Here,” which takes place among soldiers in Iraq. A private, the newbie of the title, is charged with going across some dangerous territory to milk a cow and bring back the milk for the captain for no discernible reason—but, after all, this is the Army. On the other end of the fictional spectrum is “The Caricaturist’s Daughter,” a surreal little tale in which whatever a caricaturist draws becomes real—so when his young daughter gets overly snoopy, for example, he draws her with a “big nose, long and pointed, like a sharpened broomstick” to remind her not to stick her nose in what doesn’t concern her. She grows up to be a cartoonist and exacts a predictable revenge.

Although relatively simple in narrative structure, Griner’s stories shine a glaring light on the complexities of human personality and family relationships.

Pub Date: May 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-936747-95-5

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet