With verisimilitude, compassion, and a surprising amount of nobility, Skinner navigates the mean streets of New Mexico with...

THE TOMBSTONE RACE

STORIES

Fourteen heartfelt stories about the hardscrabble Latino experience in New Mexico.

Like his contemporary Claire Vaye Watkins, Skinner (Flight and Other Stories, 2001, etc.) has a nuclear focus on a person's sense of self in the context of a physical place. He continues this style in these lovingly crafted short stories about the denizens of the desert Southwest. In “The Edge,” young Osvaldo and his crew of homies are partying at the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge when one of them falls into the canyon. Another story, “Solidarity,” bookends the male experience in a way. Two former campus radicals encounter each other during a job interview on campus only to discover how much old men change even while angry young men remain the same, often for good reasons. In “Looking Out," Skinner tackles the dangers of postmodern romanticism in depicting two young people talking about the sublime landscape around them. One asks the other, “If you woke up from your life, would you tell it as a beautiful dream, or as a nightmare?” If there’s a consistent theme throughout the collection it’s doubt in the face of one’s authenticity. Dedicated student Danny Sanchez loses his computer in “Backing Up” only to wonder if he deliberately set himself up to be drawn into gang life. In “Clean,” a junkie becomes so convinced of his own poisoned nature that, as his parole officer says, he just doesn’t know when to quit. It’s a photo album of desperate lives, but there’s a lot of poetry in the writing, too. In “My Dealer, In Memoriam,” a junkie considers his options after his dealer kicks it. “I’m going to have to start panhandling to scrape up enough change to score whatever filthy, stepped-on shit I can find on the street,” he tells us, knowing the score.

With verisimilitude, compassion, and a surprising amount of nobility, Skinner navigates the mean streets of New Mexico with cunning and grace.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8263-5627-7

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Univ. of New Mexico

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

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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A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

THE HIDDEN GIRL AND OTHER STORIES

Science fiction author (The Wall of Storms, 2016) and translator (The Redemption of Time, Baoshu, 2019) Liu’s short stories explore the nature of identity, consciousness, and autonomy in hostile and chaotic worlds.

Liu deftly and compassionately draws connections between a genetically altered girl struggling to reconcile her human and alien sides and 20th-century Chinese young men who admire aspects of Western culture even as they confront its xenophobia (“Ghost Days”). A poor salvager on a distant planet learns to channel a revolutionary spirit through her alter ego of a rabbit (“Grey Rabbit, Crimson Mare, Coal Leopard”). In “Byzantine Empathy,” a passionate hacktivist attempts to upend charitable giving through blockchain and VR technology even as her college roommate, an executive at a major nonprofit, fights to co-opt the process, a struggle which asks the question of whether pure empathy is possible—or even desired—in our complex geopolitical structure. Much of the collection is taken up by a series of overlapping and somewhat repetitive stories about the singularity, in which human minds are scanned and uploaded to servers, establishing an immortal existence in virtuality, a concept which many previous SF authors have already explored exhaustively. (Liu also never explains how an Earth that is rapidly becoming depleted of vital resources somehow manages to indefinitely power servers capable of supporting 300 billion digital lives.) However, one of those stories exhibits undoubted poignance in its depiction of a father who stubbornly clings to a flesh-and-blood existence for himself and his loved ones in the rotting remains of human society years after most people have uploaded themselves (“Staying Behind”). There is also some charm in the title tale, a fantasy stand-alone concerning a young woman snatched from her home and trained as a supernaturally powered assassin who retains a stubborn desire to seek her own path in life.

A mixed bag of stories: some tired but several capable of poetically piercing the heart.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982134-03-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Saga/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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