A record of an author finding her voice.



Debut collection from the award-winning author of A Map of Home (2008).

“The Lunatics’ Eclipse” is a fable about a girl who wants the moon and a boy who builds a rocket. “How Can I Be of Use to You?” is a sly interrogation of the ways in which women are exploited, particularly by each other. “Lost in Freakin’ Yonkers” is a desperate, foulmouthed rant by a young Egyptian-American woman pregnant with a drunk loser’s baby. These stories are set in locations geographically as disparate as Cairo and Paramus, New Jersey. “A Sailor” is a carefully controlled exercise in very short fiction, while “Grace” is a weird tale that gets a bit Borges-ian toward the end. Many of the stories gathered here have been published already—some more than once—in a range of literary journals, including such prestigious outlets as Ploughshares and Guernica. This variety is impressive, but it doesn’t necessarily make for a satisfying reading experience. Taken as a whole, these stories feel like a series of experiments—or assignments—consistent only insofar as they share a certain superficiality. Jarrar lived in Kuwait and Egypt before moving to the U.S. as a teenager, and much of her work turns on a clash of cultures. Unfortunately, in most instances, this dynamic dichotomy is the whole story. An author is not obligated to resolve the conflicts she sets up, but Jarrar seldom sticks around long enough to explore the results of the conditions she creates. In this regard, most of these stories seem unfinished. “Building Girls” is an exception. This is a subtle interrogation of class spanning multiple generations and an exploration of desire enlivened by a dash of magical realism.

A record of an author finding her voice.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941-41131-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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