The style and originality lacking in these 12 commonplace stories is almost made up for in sincerity. Ardizzone cares about the moral and social dimensions of growing up in ethnic Chicago during the '50s and '60s, even if he articulates his passion in leaden prose. Attentive to detail and atmosphere, the author seldom ventures here from home turf. The story ``Baseball Fever,'' in fact, seems to be an earlier version of Ardizzone's novel Heart of the Order (1986), complete with the deadly line drive by Danny Bacigalupo into the Adam's apple of Mickey Meenan. Chicago's north side is the setting for many of these humorless tales—like ``Nonna,'' about an aged immigrant woman who wanders the old neighborhood, unfamiliar with the new smells and sounds. Most of the pieces, though, concern a child's point of view, as with the young altar boy of ``The Eyes of the Children'' who wants to believe that the bleeding man seen in church was Christ; or another boy, in ``The Language of the Dead,'' who, falsely accused of starting a fight, freaks out when a Christian Brother smacks him around. The long ``Holy Cards'' also relies on that old favorite—the horrors of literally believing the Baltimore Catechism, which the protagonist subverts by developing a martyrology of the Chicago Cubs. Tortured sexuality is part of the profile here: In ``Idling,'' the narrator remembers his first girlfriend and his fumbling deflowering; ``Ladie's Choice'' offers the sexual confusions of a self-described greaser; and ``The Daughter and the Tradesman'' gives a Catholic girl's view as she brutally sacrifices her virginity. Warm memories of an ethnic mom surface on the occasion of her hospitalization in ``My Mother's Stories''; a father and son silently bond in ``Ritual,'' a fishing- trip tale; and a light note is managed in ``World Without End'' when a son escapes his overbearing parents by moving away, even though their visits revive all the conflicts. Nostalgic narratives with no frills.

Pub Date: March 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-252-06483-6

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Univ. of Illinois

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1996

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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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