A meandering, unrelentingly bleak read but one which rewards patient readers with an authentic slice of the hard life.

LITTLE MOCOS

A collection of tough fiction set in the poverty-stricken streets of southern Colorado.

Relles “Manito” Ortiz (“the only Ortiz worth a damn”) is one of a crew of “little mocos” in foster care, living in Huerfano County, Colorado, and intermittently earning their keep in the onion fields of New Mexico. Manito’s journey from ragamuffin street kid to damaged adult is peppered with digressions into the lives of others in the ragtag community: his cousin Bea, who, in the words of her aunt, will likely end up either “dead or pregnant”; Ray “Cornbread” Vigil, Bea’s estranged father, a career criminal and local legend; Neto, Manito’s alcoholic wastrel of an uncle; and Manito’s grandfather Santiago, whose determination to hold his extended family together is threatened when he beats down a razor-packing drunk. Their stories interweave over decades: there are births, backyard weddings, and deaths from natural and unnatural causes. Grinding poverty, stretches in prison, and military service are perennial events, and the struggle to rise above the poverty line is more often than not stymied by circumstance and self-destructive behavior, with happy endings defined more by stability than status. Jaramillo’s (The House of Order, 2011) second novel in stories builds on his debut collection, and fans of that work will likely find much to enjoy here. His writing is crisp, concise, and realistic, with a gimlet eye for the details of his characters’ grim existences. This sense of focus doesn’t extend to the wider structure, however; overall, the work feels less like a novel in stories than it does a collection of flash fiction, prone to digressions without resolution. Some readers may struggle to see beyond its litany of misery and abuse or pine for a novel in which Manito and Bea are the focal characters instead of lost in a sea of other stories. Then again, its sprawling, excursive style, similar to that of the raconteurs it portrays, may be entirely the point.

A meandering, unrelentingly bleak read but one which rewards patient readers with an authentic slice of the hard life.

Pub Date: June 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9987057-1-2

Page Count: 179

Publisher: Twelve Winters Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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