Misfires orbiting a worthwhile theme.



Twelve stories from poet and memoirest Rodriguez (Always Running, 1993, etc.) paint a disturbing portrait of East Los Angeles, but fail to populate it with characters who transcend the political sensibility they seem to emerge from.

In “My Ride, My Revolution,” a limo driver crosses back and forth over the line between rich and poor while reading the Bible and Stephen King in his spare time; “Shadows” is an unformed depiction of the horror of alcoholism in a Hispanic family; the tough life of gang girls begins “Las Chicas Chuecas,” but we quickly sneak behind the facade to witness the fragile lives of innocents; “Boom, Bot, Boom” reveals the adventures of an ex-con trying to right his life; “Mechanics” is a clumsy tale of love, labor and loss; “Oiga” offers a Mexican-Indian woman’s bleak meditation on the love and life she’s capable of; and “Miss East L.A.” is a miniature mystery about a young man who wants to be a scribe finding himself conveniently given a job as a feature writer on the trail of a local murder. Rodriguez is skillful at rendering the aura of East LA, but too often shoots for a kind of scope that he has yet to master. In the scenes and exchanges that want to be the heart of the collection, there’s a failure of execution: the people never quite become characters, and the stories fall short of the literary. The only previously published piece (“Sometimes You Dance With a Watermelon”) has appeared widely, as both fiction and nonfiction, but despite its effort to assign nobility to difficult lives, its own political will more clearly formed than the characters it tries to defend. One wishes Rodriguez step back and look again at these lives, from the distance where East LA appears like a “skid row of lost dreams and spent realities, of fury—this is a riot town, after all—and acid rain.”

Misfires orbiting a worthwhile theme.

Pub Date: April 9, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-621263-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Rayo/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2002

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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