Scratch a city and find its ghetto; scratch its ghetto and find the cesspool of drugs, disease, and despair that first-time author Giovinazzo, a filmmaker, limns in these 16 harsh yet potent vignettes. Junkies, whores, and muggers find their voices through the author's sinewy prose, which runs from cool (``Mary Montell was proud of her gifts. For a man she was well endowed'') to fever-hot (``Pedro said he saw Londa's ghost floating down the street but nobody believed him cause he was on acid at the time and suddenly his insides poured out of his mouth...''), Giovinazzo presents his lost souls without condemnation, even the worst among them: The longest tale, ``Bullets and Brutality,'' follows one Romeo, a teenaged sociopath, as he goes on a rampage of beatings, robbings, and brutal sex until he's sitting in a dark room, gun in hand, ready for the cops (``Then Romeo closed his eyes and waited for destiny''). Often, though, Giovinazzo elicits sympathy for the downtrodden by highlighting their humanity: In ``Homos Off Houston,'' a transvestite hooker tends to her AIDS-stricken lover; in the most powerful piece here, ``Miss Lonely Has a Date Tonight,'' a hooker, eager to please her pimp, submits unwittingly to a snuff-scene. In like vein, Giovinazzo rarely misses a chance to knock, crudely, white-collar types: In ``Nancy Normal Needs Another,'' a crack-addicted suburban housewife submits to her bond- trader husband's clumsy sexual advances; in ``The Psalm of Richard the Executive,'' the title character cruises for child whores. And while the author's energetic writing sometimes boils over the top (as in ``Cellblock Serenade,'' an obscene raving by a nameless prisoner), it more often captures the sounds and soul of the urban underworld with artful precision. Bold songs of the street—not for the squeamish—in the honorable tradition of Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim.

Pub Date: May 28, 1993

ISBN: 1-56025-054-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1993

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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: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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