A sharp, melancholic, and knowing addition to the long shelf of Angeleno literature.


You Don't Die of Love


These 10 interconnected stories trace a web of Hollywood relationships, revealing how careless decisions can have repercussions for decades—on and off the big screen.

The book opens with 72-year-old Lee Rockwell, an over-the-hill actor who used to star in Westerns in which his characters often died. His one-time affair with his co-star, Harry, broke up both their families—a doubly painful memory now that Harry has just died of old age. Harry’s funeral also haunts other characters, who go on to make cameos in one another’s stories. Thonson offers acrobatic dialogue in scenes that feel both realistic and satirical. Many of his interactions have the terse, economical style of the late Raymond Carver’s work. Even the subtlest lines carry power and significance: “You have to come all the way out here just to see the stars these days,” ponders Pettus, a homicide detective who drives into the country for target practice in the middle of the night. Thonson’s Los Angeles is a place of dysfunctional, pill-popping families and sociopathic drifters. In “Western,” a wayward youth squats at a dead man’s house before ultimately deciding to burgle it. The protagonist of “Montage” gets into a fistfight in the middle of the highway with a group of privileged Iranian thugs. That same story features the recurring line, “Never take a meeting with the man who has murdered your wife,” which sounds figurative at first—until the murder turns out to be literal. Hope and reconciliation seem unlikely in such a sordid world, but Thonson sprinkles his stories with moments of moving decency. The final tale, for example, depicts a startling tryst between Victor, a polio-afflicted seismologist, and Nora, his childhood neighbor; their meeting is desperate, unexpected, and perfectly encapsulates the book’s sad romance. At first glance, the book’s title has the noirish ring of a B movie. But as these world-weary characters discover, dying of love would be a blessing.

A sharp, melancholic, and knowing addition to the long shelf of Angeleno literature.

Pub Date: May 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-1460928745

Page Count: 240

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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