Fourteen stories in an uneven debut by a Trinidad-born Harlem resident: macho-flavored, visceral material too often undercut lay verbal and structural convolutions. James does fine work when he brings together a bit of Trinidadian speech and the playful inventiveness of black English to tell a straightforward story about the varied worlds he knows: a ""country-wild and Caribbeano"" sailor follows the friend he believes more worldly to opportunity in New York; a teenager rises in the drug world through his willingness to betray and execute a one-time buddy; a gang of kids plans to mug the moneyed white folks in a park while their leader's ""word whip"" reminds them to be ""Proficient Tacticians,"" not a ""Perverse Gang""; a Trinidadian takes his American-raised son on a roots-home visit where the growing bond between father and son is threatened by the embittered grandmother. ""Open Conflict,"" initially impenetrable, gives inadequate payoff for its difficulty. But throughout the collection, the language too often overreaches, more self-conscious and amateurish than original: a bag-lady scavenging trash shoves her hand ""unhesitating into each newfound crater of risk""; a mango-lover ""In furthering this theory of its excellence...researched [it] devotedly by gourmandizing every sample he could find""; an erection is ""the fleshed temptation""; one narrator finds ""My sympathy quickly diffused, unmasking the rudeness of his intrusion"" when a stranger takes a helping of peanuts. James may go the distance once he settles down.