Intimate portraits of loneliness and longing.


A captivating debut collection probes the trauma of being human.

In 15 assured, haunting, and deeply empathetic stories, Hoagland imagines characters struggling with loss and beset by a disquieting, persistent sense of the fragility of life. A mother reacts to her parents’ wartime deaths by reverting to childhood, shrinking until she becomes “a tiny shape” requiring care from her adolescent daughter. A young woman stunned by her teenage brother’s suicide wishes she had seen warning signs. “I’m still just stuck as the unfruitful, albeit disappointed survivor,” she admits, as she replays her last conversations with her brother, innocuous exchanges filled with “idioms, clichés, old wives’ words.” A father, realizing he cannot protect his maturing daughter from harm, wishes his world could remain “intact,” like “an uncut peach.” Like many of Hoagland’s characters, he feels overcome by “the shape of loss he was afraid may someday loom over him.” A few of the 15 stories, most previously published in literary journals, evoke the slyly surreal worlds of Lydia Davis: “American Family Portrait, Clockwise From Upper Right” depicts ghosts, “gendered remains, hollowed beauty, amazing absence,” and a mother’s “head tilt of love.” In “Six and Mittens,” the narrator, diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia, reveals her imaginary friends, who sometimes erupt like “a noise in your brain that hurts,” and describes in chilling detail the fierce conflict between her parents, at “wit’s end” over how to treat her illness. Several characters have been traumatized by violence: An elderly woman recalls her complicity in the execution of witches in 17th-century Salem; a dinner guest recalls an Aztec feast that devolves into bloodshed; an Iraq War veteran and a woman whose parents died in a murder-suicide confront the unlikely possibility of becoming “a normal, happy couple.” In their quiet revelations, Hoagland’s characters give voice to the disquieting fears and dark secrets that, as one character puts it, produce “heartbreaking revisions of our world.”

Intimate portraits of loneliness and longing.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-949199-21-5

Page Count: 168

Publisher: West Virginia Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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