Fourteen stories in an uneven debut by a Trinidad-born Harlem resident: macho-flavored, visceral material too often undercut by 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.