A perfect encapsulation of a sui generis writer—work that is often as frustrating as it is enlightening.

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TALES OF THE OUT AND THE GONE

SHORT STORIES

A grab-bag of pieces from the long-time poet, critic and provocateur, drawing inspiration from tall tales, sci-fi, Beat poetry and wild abstraction.

For better or worse, Baraka is now best known for voicing anti-Semitic 9/11 conspiracy theories in his poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” delivered while he was New Jersey’s poet laureate. This collection, drawn mostly from Baraka’s work over the past two decades, goes a long way toward reminding readers of the breadth of his talents—his prose bears by turns the influence of Ray Bradbury, John Coltrane and ’60s leftist tracts. But though his writing is colorful and overflowing with ideas, the stories collected here often feel maddeningly unfinished or didactic. The 1975 story “Neo-American,” which follows the black mayor of a New Jersey town on the day of the president’s visit, makes some obvious points about power’s corrupting influence and the disconnect between black leaders and the communities they serve. “What Is Undug Will Be” is that story’s near-polar opposite, an act of automatic writing that seems divorced from logic. (“It wasn’t just I, but I & I, but you was only half of you.”) But he also offers a few laughs (and shrewd observations about race) in a handful of brief stories describing a man’s out-there inventions—a device that takes you to wherever a song of your choice is playing, a ray gun that clothes you in whatever you imagine and a “pig detector” that identifies nearby cops. And he’s a solid craftsman of more conventional works like “Mondongo,” about two Air Force buddies on an ill-fated hunt for prostitutes in Puerto Rico, and “Norman’s Date,” a story that originally appeared in Playboy, about a one-night-stand gone wrong. Elsewhere, though, he dismisses the latter piece as a potboiler; for Baraka, telling the story straight is a rare (and suspect) tactic.

A perfect encapsulation of a sui generis writer—work that is often as frustrating as it is enlightening.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-933354-12-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2006

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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