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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Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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