An unabashedly patriotic compilation that impressively sheds light on the nature of military life.

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Going Home for Apples and Other Stories

A debut collection of short stories detailing the lives of American soldiers.

A contemporary trend in military memoirs is to depict a soldier as more of a victim than a warrior, traumatized rather than ennobled by service. Swimming against that current, O’Meara gathers together six fictional stories that celebrate martial honor while still exposing the grim aspects of warfare. The first, titular story centers on the rigors of boot camp; it’s dominated by the specter of the Vietnam War and tells of the deep camaraderie that results from facing hardship together. In “Cantor’s Fairytale,” the author layers multiple narratives over one another as a group of soldiers passes the time besting each other with beer-soaked tales of military life. “A Sort of War Story” depicts the horrors of an actual battle in which six American infantrymen in Vietnam hold off a troop of enemy soldiers several times their number. The stories don’t sidestep complex issues, such as race; in “Justice,” a black sergeant is threatened with a court martial for stealing a jeep, an unusually harsh and suspicious penalty. However, a jury of officers is offended by the injustice of it all and acquits him of the charges. The dialogue is always gritty, inclining toward authenticity rather than political correctness. For example, an infamously demanding drill sergeant explains the rationale for his mercilessness: “Remember, if somebody dies, and they’re dyin’ everyday, it’s your fault. Remember this little drill—ain’t nothin’ to what we’re gonna’ have to do in the Nam.” The stories use Vietnam as a theme and serve as an instructive counterpoint to narrative accounts, novelistic and cinematic, which often emphasize drug use, amoral abandon, and postbellum trauma as soldiers’ defining features. Still, they present the chilling violence of battle and its psychological impact in unvarnished form. In O’Meara’s telling, despite routine acts of heroism and courage, the soldiers who served in Vietnam did so humbly, out of senses of patriotic ardor and professional pride. Overall, this is a gripping glimpse into the lives of soldiers living and dying side by side.

An unabashedly patriotic compilation that impressively sheds light on the nature of military life.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5089-2049-6

Page Count: 152

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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EXHALATION

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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