Ebershoff (The Danish Girl, 2000) strikes a chord over and again, sure to resonate like soulful music to some and clanking...



A well-honed but less-than-striking collection about discontented gay men caught between troubled childhoods, diminished lives, and the shifting winds of their uncertain futures.

Whether the setting is Boston or Pasadena, the men and boys inhabiting the shrunken worlds of each of Ebershoff’s seven tales have more in common than not. In “The Charm Bracelet,” Billy is a high-school kid who likes to cruise at a nearby gay bar, but has yet to go beyond being flirtatious, sharing drinks, and taking phone numbers. A chance encounter with a frightened woman in a darkened park threatens to shine some reality into his life before he shuts it out again. The title story features Roland, a 48-year-old swelled to bursting with a sense of his own importance to the community. Watching men in the locker room of his athletic club, he “boiled a batch of distaste, one that would stay with him through the day.” Like all of Ebershoff’s men, Roland longs for much more than he could ever have and pays a dear price for all that attention focused elsewhere. Similarly, in “Tresspass,” the book’s spooky conclusion, the teenage narrator sleepwalks through his stunted life, suffused with dreams of what could and should be. Some of the stories, like the opener, “Chuck Paa,” in which an acne-scarred home-health aide moves from one dying AIDS patient to another, cling to you with the intensity of their sadness and sense of limitation. But for all the assured and talented writing on display here, the refrain of themes—distant families, relentless hunting for something better, obsessions with physical perfection—and sameness of tone level out the collection’s high points.

Ebershoff (The Danish Girl, 2000) strikes a chord over and again, sure to resonate like soulful music to some and clanking repetition to others.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-89483-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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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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