A collection of prisoncentric stories that astonishes with its vibrancy and strong characters.


The Stephen Hawking Death Row Fan Club


Goodwin’s potent debut drama is a series of stories about the U.S. rehabilitation system and how criminal acts affect the lives of inmates and victims alike.

In the book’s opening story, “Blank Slate,” neo-Nazi prisoner Ray Hazen seems beyond redemption. A violent man full of animosity, he’s pacified by the trauma he experiences after fellow inmates beat him severely. But even if Ray can’t remember his past atrocities, other prisoners and correctional officers can, and their mistreatment may cause him to rediscover his unsavory former self. Such is the theme among these stories: whether a convicted criminal can truly be vindicated. “Hater,” for example, follows racist Walker Calloway, who tries to start a life with a woman outside the prison walls, while Sarah in “One to One” faces inmate John Sloat, who raped her, and debates whether she should use the opportunity to kill him. Goodwin bolsters his collection by tying stories together not just thematically, but with characters and plotlines as well. Herbert Valentine, a psychiatrist at maximum security prison Orrington, crops up in several stories, sometimes merely as a supporting character. Other tales have even stronger links: the titular short story, which involves social worker Duane Case’s sessions with the four men on Orrington’s death row, is trailed by “The Victim’s Father,” about a man obsessed with retribution against his daughter’s killer—one of those death row inmates. The final two stories, “Unaccompanied Minor” and “Soul Mate,” take first-person perspectives of two criminals. The former’s protagonist is Jeff Zwerling, whose time in a hospital wing may lead to forgiving his neglectful father, while the latter, the longest of the collection, deals with the rather unsettling Keith Mueller, who sees nothing wrong in stalking a woman he doesn’t know. Despite the subject matter, Goodwin’s book isn’t nearly as bleak as readers may anticipate. Certainly there are instances of brutality, like inmates assaulting one another and prisoners’ unmitigated bigotry. But most stories leave room for hope; some even encourage it. The title story, in particular, has a final, eloquent image of a “pristine snowfall” “in the muffled silence of a winter day.”

A collection of prisoncentric stories that astonishes with its vibrancy and strong characters.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63413-015-8

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Langdon Street Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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