At their best, these flavorful pieces reside firmly in the tradition of great Southern storytelling.




Fifteen stories rooted in Southern history, from a prizewinning poet.

Smith, editor of Shenandoah, has an ear for the Southern vernacular and a fondness for eccentric—if not grotesque—characters. All but one of the stories are monologues by the central figure, who is often a participant in some historical event. In “Trousseau,” one of Jefferson Davis's guards tells of the Confederate president's capture by the Union army, when Davis was reported to have been disguised as a woman. “Shooting Booth” is presented as a first-hand account by Boston Corbett, who killed Lincoln's cornered assassin. In “I Have Lost My Right,” the narrator meets a courier from Stonewall Jackson's command. Other stories look at history from a remove: “Docent” is narrated by “Miss Sibby,” who shows visitors Robert E. Lee's tomb on the grounds of Washington and Lee University, and the narrator of “Little Sorrel” reports visitations by Stonewall's ghost. Not all deal with the war. The title story is told by a midget ukulele virtuoso who discovers that his wife is unfaithful. And the opening story, “Jesus Wept,” is told by a farm boy whose father decides that God has spoken to him when lightning strikes their outhouse. Smith laces these stories with humor, often (as in “Docent”) at the expense of the heroic Southern tradition the narrators believe themselves to be upholding. The dialogue seems stilted at times, especially in the pieces with 19th-century settings, where it reflects the flamboyant rhetoric of that era. Still, combined with the author's fondness for sometimes arcane bits of lore—models of Martin ukuleles, or details of Jackson's campaigns—this tendency may limit readership. That would be a shame.

At their best, these flavorful pieces reside firmly in the tradition of great Southern storytelling.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-8071-3187-3

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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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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