A companion volume to Junot Diaz’s Drown. Eubanks will write better books, but this one merits serious attention and respect.



Seventeen linked stories delineate a Brazilian-American’s rocky path to adulthood.

Several of these tales are terse interlude-vignettes focused on New York and New Jersey street scenes occurring in Latino ethnic enclaves (e.g., “Olinda,” which portrays the musical and sexual energies of “carnaval”; “Five-Star Hotel,” where a trio of prostitutes are hassled by a hotel doorman). The more fully developed stories chronicle in piecemeal (and, occasionally, confusing) fashion stages in the life of biracial Maceo Watson, whom we first encounter (in “Malta Scheffer”) as a nine-year-old stickball player, one of thousands of barrio and ghetto kids dreaming of major-league baseball careers. Newcomer Eubanks has a sharp eye for poor-neighborhood detail (gas shortages and long lines at the pumps in “My Friend Nigel”; a protest organized in behalf of an evicted tenant in “Uptown”), and he creates real dramatic tension in episodes that reveal gradations of status accorded skin colors of varying shades of blackness—even among family members (e.g., in the fine title story). Pieces about the adult Maceo and the personal, educational, and romantic compromises he makes are less interesting—though the concluding “A Lie in Seven Parts,” set in Bahia, vividly evokes Maceo’s confusions as part of an odd ménage including the German woman he loves and a sybaritic sexual predator (who “had a cockload of diseases whether he knew it or not”). The standout here, “Uncle Raymond,” assembles family stories and lies, and the young Maceo’s imperfect understanding of them, into a wrenching portrait of a promising, musically gifted youth “all broken in the head” by years of drug abuse. Eubanks sometimes seems more sociologist than fiction writer, and his episodic structure feels somewhat arbitrary. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful collection.

A companion volume to Junot Diaz’s Drown. Eubanks will write better books, but this one merits serious attention and respect.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-345-45178-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2003

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


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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