Vintage Stone. Enough said.



Alienated, angry outsiders stalk the dangerous edges of their unraveling lives in the great American novelist’s collection of grim short fiction.

The mordant pleasures begin with a perfectly chosen epigraph, much too good to give away. Then we plunge headlong into Stone country (Bay of Souls, 2003, etc.) with the title story’s unsparing portrayal of a weary criminal lawyer’s addled relations with his nothing job in a nowhere place, and with a female prison psychologist whose demons are more than a match for his own. Hemingway is skillfully channeled in the perfectly pitched “Honeymoon,” taut as a trip-wire as it shows a newly married man sinking under the weight of his obsession with his ex-wife, and in “Charm City,” the heartless tale of a weak married man courting romantic adventure, the predatory woman who expertly encircles him and the momentum of self-destruction that consumes every wasted life herein displayed. Stone stumbles slightly in his portrait of an incipiently burnt-out scriptwriter and the emotionally unstable actress who sashays ever more destructively in and out of his life over the years (“High Wire,” which echoes a little too closely his 1986 Hollywood novel Children of Light), and in “The Archer,” which chronicles the outrageous sociopathology of a vagrant college art prof whose middle age, we guess, might be the one J.P. Donleavy’s Ginger Man would grow into. Mastery re-emerges in “From the Lowlands,” the crisp, Ambrose Bierce–like fable of an electronics mogul whose lavish western mountain retreat can’t insulate him from the shadowed clutch of nemeses approaching. Equally fine is “The Wine-Dark Sea,” in which a renegade journalist crashes an island policy conference hosted by an increasingly unhinged U.S. Secretary of Defense—Caliban meets Conrad’s “Mistah Kurtz,” as incisive literary allusions and pistol-whip prose conspire to create a hilariously funereal Götterdämmerung.

Vintage Stone. Enough said.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-618-38625-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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