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The chef wields his pen with the same murderously winning flair as he does his knives.

Bestselling chef (A Cook’s Tour, 2001, etc.) and mystery author Bourdain (Gone Bamboo, 1997, etc.) recounts in 12 swift-moving segments the sad-hearted luck of an ex-con nightclub bouncer.

Bobby Gold—neé Goldstein—has taken the rap for his slick friend Eddie Fish all his life: eight years for a framed cocaine charge, then employment as Eddie’s debonair Lower Manhattan henchman. But Bobbie is smart (he studied premed and knows just how to make a clean snap of the radial ulna), diplomatic at his tough-guy tasks at the NiteKlub, and even slightly ashamed at this point in his life of having to rough up customers to get Eddie’s late payments. Bobby’s romantic to boot, as he learns when he catches the eye of Nikki, “the sauté bitch,” who’s having trouble not sleeping with bad-boy cooks. Tired of “the business”—slinging monkfish in truffle risotto night after night at NiteKlub—she wants to make money “by doing something illegal,” and, though Bobbie wants out of the mob fire, he ends up taking the rap for her, too, when she steals money out of NiteKlub’s safe and has to disappear. Bourdain has a Bellovian relish for depicting the small-town gangster—pathetic, hilarious, human—and the dialogue keeps the action gurgling merrily along despite the flinging viscera. Bourdain’s favorite locus, of course, is the kitchen: the blow jobs for the best staff meals, the tightly protected territory of each cook in the line, the cocaine-snorting chef and hostess in the backroom. With a few short, sharp strokes, he delineates fully fleshed, deeply flawed, powerfully sympathetic characters. Set aside the plot: Bourdain’s dialogue is worth the price of the meal, as in the scene at a Manhattan restaurant when “citizen of the world” Eddie questions every item on the cryptic menu, to the mortification of his waiter: “Wasabi . . . Wasabi . . . Was that a good thing or a bad thing?”

The chef wields his pen with the same murderously winning flair as he does his knives.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-58234-233-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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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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A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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