Quirky, beautifully crafted short stories.

Almond has an eye for the unconventional and singular. The title story in the collection introduces us to Billy Clamm, who accidentally shows up at a drama course when he was trying to enroll in a tax-preparation course entitled Loopholes Ahoy! But it turns out Billy takes readily to acting, even though the immediate pragmatic effect of this course is to land him a job as a Boston Tea Party reenactor. He also becomes enamored with the actor’s prerogative to change his name, so by the end he reinvents himself as William Aubergine and almost literally rides off into the sunset. In “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched,” analyst Dr. Raymond Oss has a weakness for playing poker—and then gets a referral for Gary “Card” Sharpe, 2003 winner of the World Series of Poker, a patient who’s dealing (pun intended) rather cynically with the psychological detritus of his father. Almond ends the story with a high-stakes game that develops between the reckless doctor and the shrewd professional gambler. “Shotgun Wedding” introduces us to Carrie, who unexpectedly discovers she’s pregnant by long-distance boyfriend/fiancé Brian. Carrie hopes for a glimmer of enthusiasm from Brian, but instead of the smile she wants to imagine him having on hearing the news, all she senses is his panic. Almond saves his creepiest moments for “The Darkness Together,” in which a mother and son experience the innuendoes and depredations of a slick and disturbing companion as they travel by train from Buffalo to Toledo. Their train compartment becomes achingly claustrophobic in the company of this unwelcome stranger. Almond’s stories range from the hilarious to the poignant—and he’s able to strike almost every note in between.  


Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-9845922-3-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Lookout Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

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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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