Heartbreakers from a writer who knows how to do it right.




Gifted novelist and essayist Boswell (The Half-Known World, 2007, etc.) lets it all hang out in 13 unpredictable short stories.

The collection opens with the showy “No River Wide,” which confoundingly juxtaposes the lives of a woman in two places at once. Many of the stories focus on formative periods. In “Smoke,” for example, a trio of adolescents boast about sex but keep their secrets, while “Supreme Beings” depicts a troubled 20-year-old convinced that Jesus Christ is hiding out in his town. A few pieces, like “City Bus,” are mere sketches instead of full-fledged portraits, but more often, the stories run deep. The best of them lean to the dark side, bordering on crime fiction tinged with a beat-influenced incongruity. “A Walk in Winter” is particularly tense, as a young man visits the country with a rural sheriff to find out whether the ruined corpse found nearby is his long-disappeared mother. The deeply uncomfortable title story follows a drifter named Keen during a summer of mushrooms and transgressions in a borrowed house with his amigos. Naturally, his bad mojo gets the best of him. Dealing with low lives, Boswell never abandons his insight or his storytelling verve, both on full display in “Lacunae.” Its protagonist, a divorced man who has lost his way in the world, contemplates fatherhood in its many forms. “Hearts can swell,” he thinks. “One’s father may speak the truth even as he settles into death. One’s mother may see in a coincidence the opportunity for redemption. One’s own child may have the blood and genes of another man. Reason may live in things that are not rational.” Few like what they see on the unwelcome voyages of self-discovery delineated here.

Heartbreakers from a writer who knows how to do it right.

Pub Date: May 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-55597-524-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2009

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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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