Imaginative work that shows how much women deserve better plots.



Being a woman is no walk in the park in this debut collection of intricately plotted, sometimes fabulist stories.

Women suffer, Wallman suggests, whether because they're concerned mothers, jealous lovers, or dieting wives. Sometimes men are the source of this pain, but often women are to blame. In "The Dead Girls Show," dead women (like the Hanged Girl and Arabella, the anorexic) put on a ghastly show where men can come and ogle their emaciated bodies and broken necks. But it's the no-nonsense strippers who see the dead girls as a threat and beat them up. Competition among women is also at the heart of "Senseless Women." A nurse named Miriam becomes obsessed with a patient who speaks incessantly even though she has lost her mind. As their histories merge, it becomes clear that Miriam's fallen prey to jealousy and drifted from her family. Plot twists and aha moments drive many of these pieces, sometimes successfully, as in "The Malanesian," which moves between the story of a runaway teenager and that of an affluent couple and their foreign maid until the two narratives come together with a satisfying pop. In "Only Children," however, a plot swerve cheapens an otherwise shrewd exploration of stepparenting. Indeed, when Wallman hews closer to realism, she shows off her considerable talent for expressing things dangerously thorny and fiercely true. In "Junk Food," which is about nothing more and nothing less than a mother spending the night with her ailing newborn, the protagonist reckons, "She did not wish she was in Italy. She did not unwish the baby. She was caught in the suffering of wanting to wish these things, wanting even to remember them clearly, and running up against a blockage of pain knitted from love and hormones."

Imaginative work that shows how much women deserve better plots.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62534-518-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Univ. of Massachusetts

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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