This catch-all volume is clever and readable throughout, but nowhere near the best this writer can do.



This first collection of 15 stories, drawn from Parks’s entire career, is both informed and cramped by the subject which gave one of his most vivid novels its title: adultery.

That’s also the subject implicit in the title of the opening story, in which two married men talk about their very different extramarital affairs: sobersided Michael’s guilty relationship with a decent younger woman and amoral George’s vainglorious carousing with a mistress who (according to George) is an erotic virtuoso. Meeting in pubs following their weekly squash games, Michael and George exchange stories, confess and boast and embroider, until their unequal odd-couple friendship gradually shifts, revealing “stories” each wishes, finally, not to hear. It’s an intriguing, if not terribly original, story—particularly when compared with several embarrassingly slight treatments of similar material, notably a story concerning the shared apartment rented by two male friends for their separate assignations (“The Room”) and a surprisingly hollow account of a naïve wife’s refusal to draw the obvious conclusion from overwhelming evidence of her husband’s faithlessness (“Something Odd”). One assumes these two are among Parks’s earliest, but none are dated. A pair of stories stands out. The first is the tale of a work-weary canoeist who seeks challenge and danger by navigating the tricky waters beneath a bridge where illegal immigrants have made their home (“In Defiance of Club Rules”)—it’s an ingenious variation on the theme of Parks’s most recent novel, Rapids, and a deft contrast between contrived thrill-seeking and lives lived in genuine peril. The second, even better, story is “Lebensraum,” in which a family gathering leaves the members sealed protectively—and resentfully—within their passive solitude and egoism. In scarcely 35 pages, it’s a taut, blistering novella: further proof that when Parks moves beyond the shorter form, his work soars.

This catch-all volume is clever and readable throughout, but nowhere near the best this writer can do.

Pub Date: April 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-84391-704-1

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Hesperus/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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