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A magnetic collection that must be read over and over.

Short stories take readers deep into the mind of a queer woman.

Leslie’s (The Things I Heard About You, 2014, etc.) collection follows Soma as she experiences the tumultuous high school years, the disappointment of unsatisfying jobs, the loss of close friends, and the heartbreak that ensues from a destructive and devastating breakup. “Only speak to yourself in a language only you can understand, and then you can put it away forever,” says the narrator in “The Initials.” It’s true that Leslie’s language has a certain precariousness as it oscillates delicately between poetic diction and traditional fiction prose. Her sentences simply capture a feeling or an event with little to no narrative context for readers to anchor themselves in. In the two tour de force stories, “The Person You Want to See” and “Self Help Liturgy,” Soma goes through the motions of grieving the loss of a relationship on social media and the loss of a close friend in real life. Juxtaposed, these two stories paint a portrait of the anxieties of contemporary people, constantly struggling between social media personae and real-life interactions. “What kind of person avoids a memorial on Facebook?” she asks. Or, “Every day parts of her shift and tighten. Parts of her slacken. Soma presses herself until her bones bloom, her arms arc and make more room for more blood. There are gulfs and channels in her body, open spaces she has never known before. She enters them.” This inner struggle Soma faces feels quintessentially human though also anchored in the semiotics of character-making. In a sense, Soma is herself an oscillation, moving between the poetic and the fictional, constantly evolving, constantly making words swerve in countless directions, and captivating readers one sentence at a time.

A magnetic collection that must be read over and over.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77166-419-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bookthug

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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