Breece D’J Pancake gets all the literary press out of West Virginia, what there is of it. But he’s been dead nearly 40...

ALLEGHENY FRONT

Sometimes lyrical, sometimes scarifying stories by the up-and-coming author of Honey from the Lion (2015).

What happens to a body when it’s been dumped in the woods under a loose pile of leaves? Maybe you don’t want to know the details, and perhaps it’s enough to say, as Null does, that “the bears and the foxes broke him apart and scattered him far and near,” language tender and elegant enough to serve in a Scottish border ballad by way of Appalachia. Null does not let that suffice, though: the body of the poor traveling salesman who ventures unwisely into the hollers is more than broken up—gnawed by dogs, half-buried, and worse—outside the confines of the story, ironically titled “Something You Can’t Live Without,” forgotten but for one thing: its former occupant’s wise observation, not long before dying, that “an animal has just enough brains to cure its own hide.” Hmmm: cured indeed. Not all the stories in this small collection are bleak and violent, but those are the dominant moods, fitting the severe landscape. Within that setting of crags, foreboding forests, and onrushing creeks, Null finds poetry and moments that can sometimes bear something like grace: “The sky went from indigo to blackness, and he saw nothing ominous in it, nothing but cold stars wheeling in their course, a course determined by the same firm hand he hoped was guiding his own.” Whether logging, farming, or damming creeks, the people who inhabit these stories are also mostly at war with each other and certainly at war with the land, which repays them with all sorts of mayhem—but sometimes, as in the closing story, with a bit of dumb luck as well.

Breece D’J Pancake gets all the literary press out of West Virginia, what there is of it. But he’s been dead nearly 40 years, and it’s high time someone else did. Null is a natural writer with much to say.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941411-25-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Sarabande

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

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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