Poirier's first collection, stories of young people in Tucson, begins with excessive cuteness, but as his interest in self- conscious novelty declines, the emotional density increases, making for an unevenly satisfying volume. Poirier starts too many of these 12 roughly linked tales like this: "She was called Jackpot because when she was born, sixty- one cents" worth of coins slid out of her mother's cooch," and "Camping on the hill wasn—t that bad except for the stories of Sugar, the demented, fat brown bear who had supposedly raped a girl in "85." After making his point that weird people merit being written about, Poirier digs a little deeper and finds rewarding material. Each of these pieces features young men and women who drink and drug too much, suffer dysfunctional families, and live in vague proximity to college, yet are capable of the Young Writer's stock-in-trade: the privately touching, miniature epiphany. "Chigger," a hair-covered youth, turns up in a couple of places, as does his mother, Mary, "the Monkey Lady." The narrator'sometimes a sidekick to Chigger, sometimes a winsomely observant third person—tells these tales with a trained fluidity, and in "Tilt-A-Whirl," when he describes how Mary lost her leg, and how Chigger subsequently buried it, he achieves an affecting, heartfelt power. In one of the strongest tales, "La Zona Roja," he recalls his brother's death after falling short on a roof dive into a pool. When asked about it by a stranger, he says, "That's not really what happened." This is apt'suggesting the unspoken things that insulate loss and keep us silent—but is rare here and lends a scattershot quality to the selections. The reader is as likely to finish a story with a groan as with a sigh. One hopes Poirier's enrollment in the Girl-With-Green- Hair school of fiction will expire and free him to explore the emotional candor that is his strength.
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