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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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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