Schiff’s startlingly honest, deliciously wry stories herald the arrival of a beguiling new talent.



A talented young writer explores sex, death, and family relationships in this spare, enticing story collection.

“I only know about parent death and sluttiness,” Schiff declares in “Write What You Know,” the final story in her arresting debut collection. “What else do I know?” She goes on to list a host of other topics—“the psychology of Jewish people who have assimilated,” “liberal guilt and sexual guilt and taking liberties sexually,” “unrequited love, and love that was once requited, but not for very long” among them—all of which we’ve already gleaned from devouring the irresistible stories here. But Schiff leaves out one thing: she also knows how to seduce a reader as blithely as some of her characters casually bed men, writing in stylishly simple and almost staccato prose, beneath the surface of which we soon spot roiling emotions—feelings of loss, the urge to connect. The young women and girls we meet here sleep around and suffer consequences (“The Bed Moved”) or don’t (“Little Girl”). They help their fathers (“Longviewers”), mourn them in expected ways (“Another Cake”), and absorb posthumously revealed paternal secrets (“http://www.msjiz/boxx374/mpeg”). They explore the possibilities of budding sexuality at nerdy Geology Camp (“Schwartz, Spiegel, Zaveri, Cho”) and the limits of proud promiscuity (“Tips”). Some of the 23 stories in this slim volume are amusingly out there (“Rate Me”; “Communication Arts”); others hit close to home. But after taking them all in, we may find ourselves quite taken with this distinctive new voice in fiction, hungry for more of it and—like the collection’s titular bed—moved.

Schiff’s startlingly honest, deliciously wry stories herald the arrival of a beguiling new talent.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87541-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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