A first collection by an English/journalism professor (CUNY), himself an ex-gang member raised in the South Bronx, looks at teenagers in the present-day —hood. In 15 stories about life in and out of the Lower Depths—b-boys, gangsta rappers, junkies, ex-cons, graffiti artists, and gang- bangers—Rondinone gets off to a most unpromising start with “Something for Sucio,” an excruciatingly unfunny tale of Bronx gang members planning a party for the victim of a hit, and “The Nobody,” the story of a female “tagger” (graffiti artist) in South Central L.A. But when the author shifts out of the first-person and escapes the jargon-laden tone of these two efforts, things (briefly) pick up: “Cleopatra” and “Faux Pas” take a deeper, more mature attitude toward the violence they contemplate, achieving moments of real feeling. A series of interlocking stories about the rise and fall of Chilly P., a rap star, show a mordant wit and a greater command of dramatic monologue than the book’s opening would have suggested. But it’s downhill again from there, as Rondinone descends into the self-intoxicated slang-slinging of the title piece. Too many of the tales here seem to be just opportunities taken (and indulged in) by Rondinone to show that he’s listening to his students’ argot, dripping with postmodern irony of the cheapest sort. Still, “Cleopatra,” with its low-key portrait of a former gang member returning from prison to his old block, and “Faux Pas,” a similarly-themed effort told from the point of view of a younger friend of an ex-con, are genuinely moving and suggest that Rondinone can do better. Depending on which voice is going to emerge in later work, either a harbinger of good things to come or a portent of less.

Pub Date: July 13, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18686-X

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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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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