Honor amid poverty from a still-growing voice.



Texan Casares debuts with nine stories about economic hardship and emotional resourcefulness in a cross-cultural zone straddling the US-Mexico border.

The pieces here—set in Brownsville, way, way south in Lone Star country—are broken into three categories with individual titles in an attempt to make them work as groups, but it’s a needless artifice. The opener (“Mr. Z”) tells of a young boy’s first job experience at a fireworks stand—an opportunity to lose economic innocence by giving away as many roman candles as he sells; “R.G.” is about a man’s intimate relationship with his hammer—his tools are his life—as he lends it to a better-off neighbor who promptly forgets the loan and comes to believe the hammer is his. In the next subgroup of stories we find “Domingo,” who works in the yard of a well-off gringo lady and contemplates his hopeless state and dead daughter while yet managing to find grace and faith in labor. In the final group, “Jerry Fuentes” is the funeral salesman swindler who takes a young narrator and his wife for a ride; “Yolanda” is the beautiful neighbor in whose imagined arms a teenaged narrator finds hope of better times that aren’t in the offing; and “Mrs. Perez” is an aging woman who finds meaning in a depressed world through bowling, of all things, and pride in her cherry-red ball that stands for fading allure. But what will happen when she witnesses the ball stolen before her very eyes and the thief turns out to be a relative? Casares’s prose is crisp and efficient, but he relies too heavily on an expected sympathy for the disenfranchised, and one wishes that the Español we get here—meant to paint a truly Hispanic world—went beyond the first three weeks of Spanish 101.

Honor amid poverty from a still-growing voice.

Pub Date: March 6, 2002

ISBN: 0-316-14680-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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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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