Unconventional, intimate, yet universally profound reflections.

GRACE IN THE DIRT

POEMS, SONGS, AND OTHER REFLECTIONS ON LIFE

In this collection, a fiction writer shares entries from his cellphone notes app that explore his inner life.

“While maintaining a formal diary doesn’t much interest me…I still require some sort of outlet for my thoughts and feelings,” remarks Kruse in his preface to this volume, which is over 700 pages. The author’s preferred way of processing everyday emotions is by using the notes app on his cellphone. Kruse has accumulated a wealth of “bite-size” entries, including poems, “mini stories,” and vignettes that provide a window into how he was feeling over several years. Divided into four sections, “Love,” “Loss,” “Despair,” and “Hope,” this book allows the author the opportunity to categorize and share these deeply personal entries. Kruse refers to this as a “snapshot of a typical human life” and hopes that readers will also recognize aspects of themselves in his words. The author’s notes run the entire gamut of human emotions and address his feelings head-on. For instance, an entry entitled “Friendly Fire” states bluntly: “There are days when I hate my face.” Kruse asks readers to find beauty and understanding in what were once fragmented, recorded thoughts. For some, the cellphone notebook suggests hurriedly typed to-do lists. Yet there is no room for the trivial in this unexpectedly compelling, insightful, and astutely collated collection, although the offerings maintain the rawness and immediacy of those entered on the spur of the moment into a keypad. In “The Martyr,” Kruse writes candidly: “There’s no end in sight for me: / Still, despite it all, / I love you earnestly.” A further layer of vulnerability is added to the confession with the knowledge it was originally written for the author’s eyes alone. In longer poems, such as “Survivor’s Guilt,” Kruse keenly pinpoints the preoccupations of someone grieving: “I feel guilty for not feeling sad enough.” Some may find the author’s language overly simplistic, but this is an individual writing for himself without the burden of needing to impress an audience. With this freedom, Kruse describes emotional states with a refreshing honesty and clarity. At their very best, his minimal notes possess the power to jolt readers to alertness: “If you don’t keep paddling— / Whether you’re aware of it or not— / You’re bound to drift.”

Unconventional, intimate, yet universally profound reflections.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1733069441

Page Count: 748

Publisher: Fire's Edge Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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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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The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

THE AWKWARD BLACK MAN

A grandmaster of the hard-boiled crime genre shifts gears to spin bittersweet and, at times, bizarre tales about bruised, sensitive souls in love and trouble.

In one of the 17 stories that make up this collection, a supporting character says: “People are so afraid of dying that they don’t even live the little bit of life they have.” She casually drops this gnomic observation as a way of breaking down a lead character’s resistance to smoking a cigarette. But her aphorism could apply to almost all the eponymous awkward Black men examined with dry wit and deep empathy by the versatile and prolific Mosley, who takes one of his occasional departures from detective fiction to illuminate the many ways Black men confound society’s expectations and even perplex themselves. There is, for instance, Rufus Coombs, the mailroom messenger in “Pet Fly,” who connects more easily with household pests than he does with the women who work in his building. Or Albert Roundhouse, of “Almost Alyce,” who loses the love of his life and falls into a welter of alcohol, vagrancy, and, ultimately, enlightenment. Perhaps most alienated of all is Michael Trey in “Between Storms,” who locks himself in his New York City apartment after being traumatized by a major storm and finds himself taken by the outside world as a prophet—not of doom, but, maybe, peace? Not all these awkward types are hapless or benign: The short, shy surgeon in “Cut, Cut, Cut” turns out to be something like a mad scientist out of H.G. Wells while “Showdown on the Hudson” is a saga about an authentic Black cowboy from Texas who’s not exactly a perfect fit for New York City but is soon compelled to do the right thing, Western-style. The tough-minded and tenderly observant Mosley style remains constant throughout these stories even as they display varied approaches from the gothic to the surreal.

The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4956-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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