Uneven, but for two thirds of its length deeply felt and rewarding.




First collection by award-winning and much-anthologized Wisenberg.

This slender volume divides neatly into two sections unequal in both length and heft. The weaker second portion includes two reimagined fairy tales, a rather predictable reworking of the Expulsion from the Garden, a couple of technical exercises that read like workshop submissions, and “My Mother’s War,” a twice-anthologized story of intergenerational competition between mother-and-daughter artists. These pieces have the slight, disembodied feeling of university papers, airless and affectless. By contrast, the 14 tales in the first section, while not uniformly successful, have the intensity of something experienced firsthand. Taken as a unit, they tell the story of several generations in a family of well-to-do bubble-bath manufacturers, the Rubins, and their place in the unlikely Jewish community of Houston. The pieces swirl through the lives of mother and father, Ruth and Ruben, and daughters Ellen and Cecilia (called Ceci), with particular attention to Ruth and Ceci. They invoke the 1950s, ’70s, and ’90s with subtle touches and inerrant memory. Ceci (closely modeled on the author, one suspects) is the kid sister par excellence, entertaining Ellen’s many admirers and, in the charming title piece, even landing one of them in the teary aftermath of the Kent State killings. She runs through a checkered career as a journalist, a part-time waitress, and an ESL teacher. Similarly, Wisenberg runs through a variety of styles and tones in these 14 generally excellent short fictions, which merit expansion into a longer book.

Uneven, but for two thirds of its length deeply felt and rewarding.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8101-5108-1

Page Count: 168

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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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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