Fine, able etchings from the heartland.




Debut collection of nine tenderly polished, horsy stories set in Midwestern farm country.

By far the strongest piece here is the title story, delineating an intimate working friendship between Luther, owner of a horse stable, and his nighttime assistant Maurice, an aging, depressed, has-been jockey who is determined to kill himself in the foaling barn. In fact, Maurice feels suicidal at the end of every foaling season, so when he calls in the middle of the night to convey his plans to hang himself, Luther is not surprised. A touching conversation between the two men ensues in the barn; it reveals their youthful hopes, shattered by disappointments, and is fittingly interrupted by the relentless call to new life of a mare giving birth. Previously published in literary journals, these stories convey a strong sense of rootedness reinforced by Richards’s stoic-toned, pared-down language. In “Man Walking,” a young couple buys a large, rugged farm, planning to make it their home for life. Will and his wife, who narrates the tale, originally planned to destroy the old log farmhouse and rebuild it, but she discovers that it’s inhabited by ghosts, “numbers of them, marching back and forth over her head.” Yet the nightly visitation by the solitary man who enters the couple’s room and stands over their bed amazes and reassures the narrator, rather than frightening her. “The Screened Porch” is a lively, witty set piece about a family of sisters named, simply, “second-oldest sister,” “youngest sister” and so on, in the light-dark manner of a Eudora Welty story. With the introduction into the family of one sister’s husband, a man both “marvelously strange” and familiar to them, the others have to make room on the sofa—a change that will alter their relationships irreparably.

Fine, able etchings from the heartland.

Pub Date: April 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-932511-33-4

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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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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