A collection of strikingly original narratives.




Ten unorthodox stories demonstrate exactly how quiet desperation is the English way.

It is not what happens but the significance of what doesn’t that’s so exquisitely illuminated by frequent New Yorker contributor Hadley (Everything Will Be Alright, 2003, etc.). In “Sunstroke,” young mothers Rachel and Janie cope with six children at a beachside resort. Rachel muses that her husband’s friend Kieran might be infatuated with her, but it’s Janie Kieran kisses on a moonless nighttime stroll. “Buckets of Blood” shows a teenager assisting almost enviously at her older sister’s miscarriage. Adult women look back on their love lives either with provisional relief that sexual tension is over (“Mother’s Son”) or with the dogged declaration that they will never again experience passion (“Exchanges”). In “Phosphorescence,” Graham, who at 13 was toyed with by his parent’s friend Claudia, seeks her out 25 years later, pressuring the grandmother of two to finally deliver on what she had once so ambiguously promised to do. “The Enemy” reviews the unsettling effect charismatic leftist student Keith had on Caro in 1968. Even though it was her sister who married and divorced him, the now stooped, balding, potbellied Keith still has the power to derail Caro’s life merely by passing through it. Patrick, another intellectual with bad posture and a thickening middle, is the object of his student Carla’s unrequited crush, or so she assumes when seducing “The Surrogate,” a man who resembles Patrick. In “A Card Trick,” established scholar Gina recalls the 1974 summer she spent with a wealthy family as a bookish, overweight 18-year-old. Her memory of tricking one of the household’s adorable but dimwitted sons intertwines with a repeat visit to her favorite Edwardian author’s house, where she discovers, in a manuscript, a harrowing scene of hopeless longing that was abridged in the published novel.

A collection of strikingly original narratives.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-42599-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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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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