Though the circumstances here are often dismally bleak, at her best Buckingham offers glimmers of pale but definite hope.


Buckingham’s 14 stories about loss, abandonment, and loneliness won the 2016 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction.

Wherever they live, from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Seattle to rural Oregon, the characters here are damaged goods, sometimes to the point of suicidal hopelessness, as in "The Island of Cats,” or merely caricature, like the family of criminals and deadbeats in “The Grandmother’s Vision.” Whether the cause is actual abandonment, as in “Three of Swords,” or a parent’s death, in “How to Make an Island,” the result tends to be a fearful adult like Myer in “Thinking About Carson,” who is unable to sustain a relationship. But not always. One of the most moving stories, “Festival,” concerns two teenage parents, Sheila and Nick, attending a music festival with their baby, Michelle; escaping troubled families, the two seem doomed to fail as parents and as a couple, especially Nick, who meanders through the festival wishing he could return to his former carefree irresponsibility. But as he grudgingly begins to accept the mantle of dependable adulthood, he discovers the grace of loving his child. Less intense is the examination of lost possibilities, represented in the story “Honey” by a dead dog, or of unadorned loneliness examined in the title story about a young woman whose attempt to break up with her boyfriend doesn’t quite work out. The fragility of children figures prominently in some of the best stories. In “My Old Man,” a mother caring for her cancer-ridden 7-year-old son learns to do whatever it takes; “Night Train” weaves a powerful web of memories while exploring a man’s mix of guilt and grief over his son’s accidental death; and in “Blue Plastic Shades,” the travails of a small boy grappling with his mother’s mysterious disappearance and his father, who's lost to grief, gradually soften into a possibility that father and son might heal together.

Though the circumstances here are often dismally bleak, at her best Buckingham offers glimmers of pale but definite hope.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-57441-647-3

Page Count: 196

Publisher: Univ. of North Texas Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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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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