The tragic and the heroic on the scale of the everyday, with characters so human that they seem utterly recognizable.




In a debut collection of 15 deceptively simple tales (all previously published), Noyes distills to a startling, lyrical essence the lot of plain folks.

The title story is about a minister at a crossroads, ready every week to walk out of his Sunday service and bolt, yet who wins a five-minute shopping spree at his local supermarket and thereby gains a rare chance to put his life in perspective. The minister in “Parables” is less lucky: Wade has made a difference in Joe’s life, visiting him in prison, where’s he serving 20 years for murder, vouching for him at his parole hearing, even letting him rent a house owned by the church. But no matter how hard Wade tries, he can’t redeem the alcoholic Russell, his neighbor, who has borne a grudge ever since Russell’s aunt willed the house Joe lives in to Wade’s church. Caught in the middle, Joe does in a moment of crisis what he believes is the right thing, even though he also knows it’s wrong. Other stories feature a budding baseball slugger nipped in the face by a pitch that leaves him unable to enter the batter’s box again (“Vehicles”), and a supermarket’s meat supervisor who has to deal with pressures from above, the quirks of his crew, and a sale of ground chuck at 89 cents a pound (“Meat”). Two other pieces mesh with a poignant resonance: In “In-Between Places,” a young man, Quinn, is stranded on the interstate in a blizzard well west of Albany, where he’s headed to make a commitment to his intermittent girlfriend, Rachel, who’s just told him she’s pregnant. Ten years later, in “Sleeping through Mountains,” Quinn is now divorced and has abducted his son after learning that the boy and Rachel were headed to Florida with her new boyfriend.

The tragic and the heroic on the scale of the everyday, with characters so human that they seem utterly recognizable.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2002

ISBN: 0-8023-1338-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dufour

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2002

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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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