Here and there the fabric shows signs of wear, yet the workmanship remains as exquisite, as sure and strong, as ever.


A solid ninth collection of 12 varied, moving stories by the Anglo-Irish master (most recently, the novel Death in Summer, 1998).

All the usual Trevor themes are here, with sometimes subtle, sometimes merely minimal variations. The outsider who threatens a complacent marriage or other settled existence assumes nicely differentiated forms in “Three People” (a perfectly awful title), in which a man and woman are both united and paralyzed by “the love that came . . . through their pitying of each other”; “A Friend in the Trade,” whose importunate closeness to a married couple ends in his virtual banishment from their orbit; and “Against the Odds,” in which a lonely widower is fleeced by a pragmatic traveling woman, who thereafter won’t be able to forget him. Solitude saturates “Of the Cloth,” an elderly rural priest’s lament for his faith’s inglorious present; and, notably, “The Virgin’s Gift,” in which a long-cloistered cleric is mysteriously sent back out into the world, to become the long-delayed comfort of his parents’ old age. A few stories—such as “Good News,” about a child “actress” seeking a more comforting world than the one created by her separated parents; “Low Sunday, 1950,” a tepid rehash of Trevor’s overrated novel Fools of Fortune; and “Le Visiteur,” a Maupassant-like anecdote set on a Channel island—seem simply inert on the page. But two pieces are superb. “The Mourning” takes an unassuming Irish lad to London for work, unwanted complicity with the IRA, and an ensuing lifetime of uncertainty as to whether he has acted as a decent man or as a coward and traitor. And the marvelous title story depicts the passive resignation of a rural family’s youngest son, who renounces his chances for happiness, returning to serve his widowed mother’s needs, knowing that “the hills had waited for him, claiming one of their own.”

Here and there the fabric shows signs of wear, yet the workmanship remains as exquisite, as sure and strong, as ever.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-670-89373-0

Page Count: 245

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2000

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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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