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


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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