In Baida's somber world, ordinary people struggle with the complex absurdities of urban life and generally lose—but with an...




Ironic tales of life's limitations by a writer who died, at age 49, just a few months after the title story took first prize in the 1999 O. Henry Awards. It's that piece that establishes the collection's melancholy tone. A widowed nurse, Mary McDonald, patiently awaits her own death from metastasized cancer, until the spectral appearance of a stern nun, a hospital administrator she opposed during a bitter strike years ago. The nun bestows the faint praise she never gave in life and an absolution of sorts, allowing Mary to pass away peacefully at last. That's about all that Baida's characters hope for as they reflect upon their lives. The two elderly men in "Mr. Moth and Mr. Davenport" manage to cheat death temporarily by moving in together, looking after each other with the same tenderness as the woman they once both loved. In "No Place To Hide," perhaps the most original of these understated tales, a divorced, middle-aged man unwillingly acquires a help, the street-smart, down-and-out son of his mother's housekeeper. The uneasy arrangement ends only when the young man suggests turning the apartment into an upscale brothel and gets kicked out, brazenly swiping a baseball glove autographed by Joe DiMaggio as he goes through the door. There are several other stories in a similar vein.

In Baida's somber world, ordinary people struggle with the complex absurdities of urban life and generally lose—but with an odd grace, thanks to his thoughtful writing.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-57806-318-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Univ. Press of Mississippi

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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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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