What was once daring may now seem a little tame, but Coover’s influence endures, and this collection provides good evidence...



A gathering of short stories by Coover (Huck out West, 2017, etc.), the pioneering maven of postmodern experimentalism.

Over seven decades, Coover, who now teaches “electronic writing” at Brown University, has explored many modes of short fiction, from the near-expressionistic to the most disjointed stream-of-consciousness. Indeed, it is with the latter strategy that this gathering opens, with an onrushing story that suggests both madness (“I shout for his boys and for his wife and for anybody inside and nobody comes out ‘Goddamn you’ I cry out at the top of my lungs and half sobbin and sick and then feelin too beat out to do anythin more I turn around and head back for home”) and the biblical tale of Noah and all its divine oddity. The story following it, also from the 1960s, has a comparatively placid tone, even if it turns on horrific flatulence inside an office-building elevator. At the heart of many of the 30 stories collected here are what might be thought of as fractured fairy tales: the gingerbread house that lends its name to one story “is approached by flagstones of variegated wafers,” Coover writes, “through a garden of candied fruits and all-day suckers in neat little rows”; the antinomian sisters who, like bears, once visited a deserted island manor and “shat in the soundbox of an old green piano”; the lion who converses with the fox inside Aesop’s forest and says that it’s “a wise policy…to keep potential enemies where you can either watch or eat them.” There’s even an odd take on the old "Pied Piper of Hamelin" yarn, complete with nibbling on rats before they can nibble on you. Some of the stories are little-known; some, such as “The Babysitter,” much studied, anthologized, and imitated.

What was once daring may now seem a little tame, but Coover’s influence endures, and this collection provides good evidence for why that should be so.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-60846-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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