A debut collection of nine interlocked stories chronicling an unhappy family’s years abroad and at home. The Mowrys are restless types at heart, the kind of people who manage to settle down but never really feel at home and are probably happiest on the road. Daniel Mowry is a refrigeration engineer, an Army vet who wanted to be a pilot but was held back by poor eyesight. He and his wife Iris live for some years in South America while Daniel works with the overseas division of General Electric. Eventually, though, they return to the States and settle in Carville, Tennessee. Of their two daughters, Ruth is a sickly baby who grows up withdrawn and neurotic, while her sister Monica marries young and adjusts to normal life better than the rest of the Mowrys. Most of the stories here are episodes in the family history, describing things as various as Ruth’s nervous breakdown (—A History of Sex—), Iris’s realization of her husband’s infidelity (—The State of the Union—), a Caribbean vacation (—Off Grenada—), and the general malaise that Daniel (—Cave Fish—) and Iris (—Life in the Air Ocean—) seem to have labored under for the whole of their marriage. As family portraits go, this one is grim but not particularly vivid, and although Foley’s descriptive powers (—The habits that came to Ruth were those of quickness, and falling. She understood plain things, eggs and rectangles and rhymes—) are keen, she has small use for them here, where the unremitting sadness of the characters keeps them withdrawn, passive, and largely inarticulate. Decently done but unremarkable: tales of essentially decent people who never amount to much either in life or on the page. Foley’s talents may need a more ambitious approach.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-40063-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1998

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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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