Though Chiusano proves himself a skilled storyteller, connections to Marine Park limit rather than unite these stories. A...



The 17 stories in Chiusano’s debut collection center on the people and events in a remote neighborhood of southeast Brooklyn.

Many of these stories feature family dramas and childhood memories with several recurring characters, most notably two brothers, Lorris and Jamison. Chiusano paints a vivid portrait of Marine Park, a strangely provincial portion of the city. An eccentric neighbor pets the children’s heads in “Palming,” the brothers ride the bus alone to buy Christmas presents in “Open Your Eyes,” and the same barber cuts residents' hair for years in “Haircut.” At their strongest, the stories uncover forgotten truths of youth, as when the narrator of “Air-Conditioning” remembers the “spring of people breaking their wrists.” But the quiet tales bleed into each other, and the scenes and characters soon feel too familiar. When Chiusano does break his established patterns, he finds varying levels of success. “Vincent and Aurora” opens with the routines of an older married couple but takes a surprising, action-packed twist that reads like a thriller and feels out of place. “Clean,” a similar misfit, follows the outbreak and spread of a strain of herpes among a group of friends in the 1970s. On the other end of the spectrum is “We Were Supposed,” a stylistic standout. The two-page story of run-on sentences is a litany of lost opportunities that builds a mosaic of a life unlived. “We were supposed to go see a movie, get coffee, return calls, kiss, be alone, share a meal together…” it begins. “Shatter the Trees and Blow Them Away” also benefits from deviating from the standard, traveling farthest from the titular setting. The story occurs in New Mexico at the testing facility for the atomic bomb during World War II. The love story that unfolds, while predictable, is told in stunning language and is a refreshing change from the typical themes of Chiusano’s work.        

Though Chiusano proves himself a skilled storyteller, connections to Marine Park limit rather than unite these stories. A reader begins to wish Chiusano, like his characters, could break free.

Pub Date: July 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-14-312460-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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