Standard domestic drama, nicely constructed, with some good characters and a strong storyline, yet predictable and somewhat...


Storywriter Solwitz (Blood and Milk, 1997) offers a grim debut novel about an unhappy Chicago family starting to come apart at the seams.

On the surface, Claire Winger seems fine—the middle-aged wife of an eye surgeon, she works as a nurse in a children’s hospital, has two bright teenaged daughters, and lives in a pleasant upscale neighborhood of Chicago—but she has unexplained seizures that arise out of nowhere, not to mention a pervasive and equally inexplicable sense of foreboding. Medications help keep the seizures under control, but Claire still feels frequently anxious and out-of-sorts. Her elder daughter, Nora, a demure high-school sophomore increasingly drawn to Christianity, worries that her mother may be suicidal. Younger daughter Hadley notices Claire’s moodiness but is too obsessed with boyfriends and her own popularity to pay much attention. Meanwhile, husband Leo tries to help but is ineffectual by nature and worn down by Claire’s relentless neediness. When he hesitates to defend her from an armed thug on the street one night, a fatal gap opens up between them. Claire throws herself into an affair with Bodey Marcus, a self-centered acting teacher, and she pays less and less attention to her girls. This encourages Hadley to neglect her studies to such a degree that she’s soon on the verge of flunking. Eventually, Hadley runs away from home when Leo and Nora are out of town, and Claire has to call the police to look for her. Like much adolescent angst, Hadley’s discontent hints at a deeper problem—one having more to do with her parents than herself. When she comes home, will things improve? Does she even have a home to come back to?

Standard domestic drama, nicely constructed, with some good characters and a strong storyline, yet predictable and somewhat flat all the same.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-889330-93-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2003

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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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