Darkly comical; readers will be ready for more.

FIRES OF OUR CHOOSING

In his debut short story collection, Cross realistically documents fears, loss and the complexities of relationships by glimpsing into a dozen different lives.

The 12 stories feature a cast of varied characters with one commonality: They’re all troubled by events from their past. Marty, a sixth-grade boy, resorts to violence after the death of his father; Lenny’s bad luck comes to define him; and Ronny finds a surprising ally in the son of his high school bully from years ago. Cross’ stories meditate on what it means to experience pain, and his characters demonstrate that there are many different ways of coping. The captivating first line of each story hints at the tension that follows, especially in “Hunters,” which begins: “The winter I turned twenty-seven, I followed a woman who said she might love me to a small town in Northwest Pennsylvania, a go-between place that provided me with little comfort, except maybe to say that its prospects seemed worse than my own.” The endings are usually just as enticing; mirroring reality, they aren’t clean, definitive conclusions but rather a place for readers to leave the character, confident he or she is in good hands, and move on to the next. Cross’ descriptions allow readers to conjure a clear image of each character, as evidenced by the introduction of Lenny, who was blind in his left eye, “the blackness of his pupil leaking into his iris like spilled ink.” Thematic similarities throughout the collection make it difficult for one story to stand out among the rest, but it also amounts to a pleasing consistency. It’s clear that Cross is capable of full-length fiction, which would be a welcome next step for such a talent.

Darkly comical; readers will be ready for more.

Pub Date: April 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-1936873074

Page Count: 195

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2012

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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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