No matter the story, Rash grabs you and doesn’t let go.




It’s grand to see a writer coming into his own, as Rash does in this punchy story collection, following some impressive novels (The World Made Straight, 2006, etc.).

Once again, we’re in the mountains of North Carolina, where life is hard and the locals age fast. In the extraordinary “Pemberton’s Bride,” set in the early-20th century, Pemberton returns to town with his bride. Waiting for him at the train station is a woman he has impregnated and her father, ready to kill her seducer. Knives flash. Pemberton quickly dispatches the old man; case closed. After all, he owns the lumber company, the only large-scale business in town. The icy, imperious couple dominates the community like royalty, until they overreach with a double murder. This long story, a natural for the big screen, chills to the bone. Some contemporary stories, though not in that league, are also powerful. In “Deep Gap,” a father, helpless against the spread of drugs into country towns, tries desperately to save his son from his habit, and the brutal dealers he can’t pay. “Dangerous Love” features a carnival knife-thrower and his partner; they fall in love. What makes their love dangerous is the intensity of their passion. “The Projectionist’s Wife” is a dramatic coming-of-age story; a 14-year-old boy saves a woman from a questionable tryst and kills his first deer, both within an hour. Violence is seldom far away. A college teacher, responding to a personal ad, is brought up short when the woman tells him her husband is set to kill her once he gets out of prison (“Honesty”). A daredevil teenager, stealing marijuana, gets caught in a bear trap (“Speckled Trout,” the basis for The World Made Straight). A charming exception is “Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes,” in which three old geezers get a new lease on life when they take on a giant sturgeon.

No matter the story, Rash grabs you and doesn’t let go.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-312-42508-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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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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