A clever but uneven story collection that reads a bit like a present-day Replacements concert: you never know from page to...



Sad sacks, troubadours, and other beautiful losers populate this debut collection of short stories by YA novelist Beaudoin (Wise Young Fool, 2013, etc.).

About half the tales in Beaudoin’s quiver have some real grit, like Springsteen or Bob Seger songs written about the travails of Gen X–ers back in the golden days of flannel. That vibe is better than it sounds but it’s too often derailed by postmodern sarcasm and juvenile wit. The first two stories are pretty typical Midwestern Americana. In “Nick in Nine (9) Movements,” we follow a guy who thinks he’s going to grow up to be Slash (and doesn’t). In “The Rescues,” we pretty much meet the same Everyman, here finding his humanity in helping people fix their beater cars. Things take a darker turn in “Hey Monkey Chow,” mostly about a guy who has a near-miss sexual encounter with his adopted sister. “It’s weird how almost everyone does the worst thing, every time,” Beaudoin writes. “Gives in to their essential natures without thought or complaint. Our little brains suckered in by the first shiny thing. And then, when we have a chance not to be, a real and obvious chance to prove we’re actually half-human, still fuck it up.” In these and other tales, there’s also a perplexing and persistent immaturity that probably works well in the author’s novels but less so here. Only in “You Too Can Graduate in Three Years with a Degree in Contextual Semiotics” do we see a real portrayal of adulthood, and it ultimately finds its protagonist pining for the one that got away. Just to show he still has some tricks up his sleeve, Beaudoin slips in a mickey with “Base Omega Has Twelve Dictates,” a really funny satire of teen dystopian fiction.

A clever but uneven story collection that reads a bit like a present-day Replacements concert: you never know from page to page if you’re going to get the melancholy poet or the drunken joker.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61620-457-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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