The writing is fluid, the details brisk and vivid as newcomer Jaime-Becerra reveals his characters without judging them...

EVERY NIGHT IS LADIES’ NIGHT

STORIES

Ten connecting stories, set mostly in 1980s California, deftly pursue a loosely connected family of Mexican-Americans with little money or education.

Jaime-Becerra’s protagonists are ice cream vendors, tattoo artists, and teenagers navigating American values in El Monte, California, while their old-world parents glower uncomprehendingly at the new ways. In “The Corrido of Hector Cruz,” a young father-to-be is sent out for food to satisfy the cravings of his pregnant wife, whom he adores. The two are barely scraping by on low-wage jobs when they learn that Hector’s nephew—his dead brother’s young son, Lencho, fresh from reform school—must come live with them. Yet what might have been disastrous turns out—as happens often here—a kind of salvation for both the couple and for Lencho, who has no real skills but a lot of heart. Subsequently, in “Riding with Lencho,” we learn that he becomes an auto mechanic, then gets by on disability when his ex-girlfriend scalds him with boiling coffee after growing enraged at his going to night school. In another familial tangent, the young narrator of the fine first story, “Practice Tattoos,” watches in sad resignation as the fights between his mother and sister, Gina, over her boyfriends eventually propel her out the door forever. Later, Gina and her tattoo artist steady, Max, resurface in another eponymous story, trying to stay in love despite the louche types who supply Max’s trade. The characters here want more than anything to do the right thing—fall in love and steer a better course, for example, though in a couple of stories, like “Media Vuelta,” we’re given a glimpse of the earlier generation back in Mexico: mariachi guitarist Jose Luis’s courtship, for instance, and loss of his sweetheart.

The writing is fluid, the details brisk and vivid as newcomer Jaime-Becerra reveals his characters without judging them harshly. Learn Spanish in richly affecting narratives from a strong new talent.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-055962-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Rayo/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

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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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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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