Stories that serve as unvarnished, even fond, testaments to a tough, queer life.

The pudgy, queer kid at the heart of these stories must navigate the harsh but loving community of migrant farm workers in rural California in the mid-1970s.

“I get picked on all the time for being fat, cuz I can’t throw a ball, for speaking English all wrong," Gordo confesses in “Fandango,” in which he confronts the rare phenomenon of an apparent gringo coming to work at the garlic fields. It’s an indication of how baffling Gordo finds the adult world that he doesn’t understand that someone with red hair can be a Mexican named Juan Diego. The redhead encourages young Gordo to down some tequila at a boisterous Saturday night fandango that Gordo would prefer to observe, sitting on an upturned bucket just outside the circle of men who are drinking and listening to a Vicente Fernández record. “It tasted awful, but now everybody likes me,” Gordo says. “For once, all the guys like me!” That party ends in two brothers having a violent brawl, one of them rushed to the emergency room by some of the other men even though they’re furious at the brothers for fighting so intensely. Gordo has grown up in “Raymundo the Fag,” by now the most talented hairstylist in Watsonville, such a star that Olga, his colleague, urges him to move to San Francisco or even just Salinas, which is at least a bigger town than Watsonville. “Half the culeros in this town have harassed or beat me, when they weren’t trying to get into my pants,” Ray tells her. “But I’m still here and taking their money to make their wives and girlfriends look foxy. That’s home, Olga. I’m not going nowhere.” Raygay, as he was known by his bullies when young, is asked to make one of his middle school tormentors look good in death; one side of Shy Boy’s head is punctured by a bullet and only Ray can make the wig look stunning. These stories are elemental and unfussy, their emotional hearts affecting and memorable.

Stories that serve as unvarnished, even fond, testaments to a tough, queer life.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5808-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021



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



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

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. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

Close Quickview