A nicely varied feast from a master of the form.



Searing collection of short fiction from critically acclaimed Rash (Serena, 2008, etc.)

The scourge of meth addiction ravages North Carolina’s mountain communities in three of these 12 stories. For Devon, playing guitar for the wasted wretches at a funky roadhouse in “Waiting for the End of the World,” it’s mordant humor that gets him through the night. “The Ascent” takes a closer look at the human consequences of meth use. To escape a miserable home life with his zonked-out parents, 11-year-old Jared goes climbing and discovers a crashed plane. Pilot and passenger are dead, yet the boy finds it “snug and cozy” inside; there can be no happy ending for his fantasy about a different home. Even more devastating is “Back of Beyond,” the collection’s standout. Parson’s customers are addicts. This doesn’t bother the hard-boiled pawnbroker, but it gets personal when Parson learns that his thieving, strung-out nephew Danny has driven his brother and sister-in-law out of their remote farmhouse. There’s a shocking image of the old folks huddled fearfully under the covers in Danny’s trailer, but Rash knows how to evoke suffering without beating up his readers. In “Hard Times,” we meet a farming couple barely making it during the Depression; tracking down an egg thief makes for high drama. “Lincolnites” goes back to the Civil War to show a young wife, alone on the farm while her husband serves in the Union army, heroically holding off a marauding Confederate soldier. The violence in both these stories is sudden, deadly and over in a blink, a Rash trademark. The end comes just as quickly and unexpectedly in the contemporary “Dead Confederates,” a macabre account of a rascal literally digging his own grave. Also of note are the title story, in which a widow pays a high price for staving off loneliness, and “The Corpse Bird,” which pits ancient country lore against modern medical self-assurance.

A nicely varied feast from a master of the form.

Pub Date: March 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-180411-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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