WE CAME ALL THE WAY FROM CUBA SO YOU COULD DRESS LIKE THIS?

STORIES

The down-to-earth stories in this debut collection from a Chicago Tribune columnist are pleasing, although they occasionally fail to connect to larger themes. Several of Obejas's narrators are lesbians trying to understand how relationships ought to work. In ``Wrecks'' the narrator explains that she regularly gets into car accidents when romance fades, and since her girlfriend has just left her she is preparing for a crash. The narrator of ``The Cradleland'' confides her fantasy of being ravished in a public bathroom and worries about safe sex even between lesbians since her (male) roommate and best friend is dying of AIDS. In ``Forever'' a lesbian activist trying to sort our her past (she says of her ex-lover, ``We're good lesbians: we've been painfully breaking up for two years'') subjects her current lover to ``the porch test,'' which means trying to imagine the two of them old together, sitting in a rocking chair on a porch. These are very accessible, sweet stories that, while appealing, do not have the lasting effect of the darker work here. The title story, the history of an immigrant Cuban family from the daughter's point of view, is more successful as well as more complex. Fragmented memories contain telling details, such as the summer the narrator's father finally buys a television set after insisting for years that it would be too difficult to transport one back to Cuba, and therefore symbolically accepts that they will remain in the US. ``Above All, a Family Man'' follows a dying man and his married lover as they drive from Chicago to Santa Fe. It both traces their relationship back to its origins and covers the married Rogelio's insistence that he cannot be at risk for AIDS because he is not gay. In ``Man Oh Man'' a heroin addict tells of the last time shooting up with a man named Ice who is now dead. Brings the marginalized front and center.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-939416-92-1

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Cleis

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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