Refreshingly simple: A flexible new voice able to record the more subtle effects of racial tension.




Eleven debut stories from a voice determined to transcend the barrier of race.

Allen’s characters are mostly African-American, but you’d never really know it—these pieces often take place without the subject of race ever coming to the fore. Unlike a lot of fiction based on American racial tension, Allen’s tales shoot for a deeper, more profound experience, one that sometimes includes race but never relies on it. “Carved in Vinyl” concerns a woman whose assent into middle age triggers memories of a simpler time, when things were all “boss” and R&B; the title story follows a man on what may be his final ride home from work, an event inspiring quiet contemplation of life and marriage; the movement of a circus from town to town (“Mud Show”) makes for a convincing period piece and a potentially violent forum when an elephant gets sick and may go haywire; while “Marisol’s Things” follows two young sisters as they make the trek through childhood, young adulthood, eventual estrangement, and finally a subtle form of forgiveness. “Keep Looking” is a second-person account of a woman in a bookstore who feels a man’s eyes on her back; and another woman’s unusual medical condition makes for the stuff of freak shows in a period piece set in 1919. Much of the time, there seems a need in Allen to resist the penetration of race into her stories—and it’s a relief that she succeeds in banishing that customary obligation, to the extent she can, as does Tiffany, in “Yearbook:”: “She clenches the cross in a fist, reels back, and throws it as far away from her as she can. But it is very light, and travels only a few yards before it drops in the grass and lies there, glinting dully back at her.”

Refreshingly simple: A flexible new voice able to record the more subtle effects of racial tension.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8262-1444-4

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Univ. of Missouri

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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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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