The energy of youth and intelligence and possibility thrum through these pages.

IN A NARROW GRAVE

ESSAYS ON TEXAS

A reissue of the 1968 volume of gently connected essays by the author of The Last Picture Show (1966) and myriad other notable works about the Southwest.

Surprisingly, McMurtry’s essays from a half-century ago possess enduring relevance. One of his themes is the end of the cowboy era and the exodus from the ranch to the city and suburbs. He writes at the outset that he wanted an elegiac tone, and he achieved it—witness his final clause in the book: “it can never be again.” Throughout, the author writes about the passing of the old ways: from the deaths of beloved older relatives (Texas was aswarm with McMurtrys) to the evanescence of the small towns to some of the depressing features he observes in Texas cities. San Antonio, he writes, is “the one truly lovely city in the state.” Younger readers may need to consult Google for some of the McMurtry’s references. An early essay, for example, deals with the filming of Hud (1963), based on his 1961 novel, Horseman, Pass By, and even the stars’ names, once iconic, have faded into history’s fog (except Paul Newman): Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Neal et al. It’s sometimes startling in these pages to read about the “new” presidency of Lyndon Johnson, the opening of the Astrodome, and other long-ago events. Occasionally, the 1968 McMurtry could be a little insensitive about how his words might sound 50 years later, as when, attending a fiddle event, he comments about how he saw no pretty women there—and he looked all day. These reservations aside, it is exciting to return to these essays and to hear McMurtry’s young, vibrant voice echoing throughout. One especially memorable essay records a drive he took around the entire state; through his eyes, we see the reality of his themes.

The energy of youth and intelligence and possibility thrum through these pages.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63149-353-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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Erudite writing from an author struggling to find meaning through music.

THEY CAN'T KILL US UNTIL THEY KILL US

An Ohio-based poet, columnist, and music critic takes the pulse of the nation while absorbing some of today’s most eclectic beats.

At first glance, discovering deep meaning in the performance of top-40 songstress Carly Rae Jepsen might seem like a tough assignment. However, Abdurraqib (The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, 2016) does more than just manage it; he dives in fully, uncovering aspects of love and adoration that are as illuminating and earnest as they are powerful and profound. If he can do that with Jepsen's pop, imagine what the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Prince, or Nina Simone might stir in him. But as iconic as those artists may be, the subjects found in these essays often serve to invoke deeper forays into the worlds surrounding the artists as much as the artists themselves. Although the author is interested in the success and appeal of The Weeknd or Chance the Rapper, he is also equally—if not more—intrigued with the sociopolitical and existential issues that they each managed to evoke in present-day America. In witnessing Zoe Saldana’s 2016 portrayal of Simone, for instance, Abdurraqib thinks back to his own childhood playing on the floor of his family home absorbing the powerful emotions caused by his mother’s 1964 recording of “Nina Simone in Concert”—and remembering the relentlessly stigmatized soul who, unlike Saldana, could not wash off her blackness at the end of the day. In listening to Springsteen, the author is reminded of the death of Michael Brown and how “the idea of hard, beautiful, romantic work is a dream sold a lot easier by someone who currently knows where their next meal is coming from.” In all of Abdurraqib’s poetic essays, there is the artist, the work, the nation, and himself. The author effortlessly navigates among these many points before ultimately arriving at conclusions that are sometimes hopeful, often sorrowful, and always visceral.

Erudite writing from an author struggling to find meaning through music.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-937512-65-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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