Seventeen never-before-published tales starring cocaine and its low-rent cousin, crack.

Editors Phillips (Monkology, 2004, etc.) and Tervalon (Dead Above Ground, 2000, etc.) collected stories from a variety of writers and grouped them into sections representing the four pillars of the cocaine-lifestyle: death, addiction, corruption and dealers. The result, with the exception of two literary stand-outs and one notable debut, is a mixed-bag of tales and portraits of paranoia that do little more than prove that things don’t go better with coke. Thus, an Irish loser-user with a surplus of cocaine and cash can’t get past his sad-sack ruminations to save his own hide; a coke-snorting, love ’em and leave ’em ladies’ man loses his edge; a screenwriter in rehab regrets driving his truck through his soon-to-be ex-wife’s house; two addicts look on as a third neglects her children; at her mother’s pimp’s insistence, a child substitutes when Mama hightails it with a john and some blow; and so on, through ruined septums, burned-out nasal passages and other rather phlegmy activity. It’s punishing to read in one sitting. Nothing here approaches the elegiac understanding of addiction that Fitzgerald conveyed in “Babylon Revisited” or Annie Hall’siconic moment when Woody disperses a fortune’s worth of cocaine with one ill-timed achoo, although Laura Lippman’s story about two teenage mall-rats who, like, go on the crack-cocaine diet to drop a few dress sizes before the big dance, is a bright spot of humor in this mostly dour line-up. The literary exceptions are by Susan Straight and Jerry Stahl, whose stories transcend their thematic assignment to create addicts of impotent depth and, ultimately, pathos; and newcomer Detrice Jones, who writes from personal experience of dodging her addict-parents’ nightly attempts to steal her school-lunch money. That story’s authority makes many of the others read like rip-offs of somebody else’s real-life stash.

Just say no.

Pub Date: April 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-888451-75-0

Page Count: 267

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2005

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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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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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