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 19, 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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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.


One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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