Short, enjoyable and absurd—a pleasant Halloween treat.

AFTER THE COCK CROWS

This collection of three short stories ranges from hillbilly humor to playful horror à la Tales from the Crypt or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

First-time author Campbell opens with “Michelle’s Ghost,” an amusing little tale about a big spider problem. More an extended anecdote than a short story, it refuses to take itself seriously—an endearing quality that pervades the tales. The far more substantial Duncan’s Passion is a novella with solid, empathetic characters and replete with chapters and even an epilogue. There are two characters named Duncan: One is the son of the main protagonists, Tom and Tammy; the other is Tammy’s distant ancestor, one of a number of ghosts haunting the farmhouse the family has inherited. This brief narrative involves pictures falling of their own volition, pirate treasure, the ground opening up, an evil lawyer, mojo, and feuding, cutlass-wielding ghosts. It’s all told with carefree good humor and filled with snarky wisecracks—“Something tells me I ain’t in Kansas no more”—and Halloween imagery: “O’Connor was lying under a large metal shelf with only his head sticking out. His tongue was swollen and his eyes were popped out and resting on his cheeks.” The final story, “Fiddling Blue Billy and His Bigfoot Wife,” has nothing to do with ghosts, but it’s a rollicking bit of good ol’ hillbilly funnin’ reminiscent of Vance Randolph’s Pissing in the Snow and Other Ozark Folktales (1976). This first-person tale tells of a 6-year-old’s visit to his gigantic relatives Billy and Em. It’s filled with Appalachian flavor: “She’s just dumber’n a hoe handle.” Billy is blue from methemoglobinemia, a disorder that actually exists, while Em is from a different race of humans, hidden in the woods and covered with hair, that probably doesn’t exist. The nonsense mounts until Em takes an unnatural shine to the 6-year-old narrator, then all hell breaks loose.

Short, enjoyable and absurd—a pleasant Halloween treat.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500422608

Page Count: 96

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2014

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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