Needs a clearer sense of narrative with less reliance on well-worn phrases.

Running Blind

Vincent’s debut novel explores the horrors of habitual substance abuse, casual philandering and “the rock and roll lifestyle,” with a new low on nearly every page.

Set in New Jersey in the late mid 1980s with flashbacks to the ’70s, the narrative follows aspiring musician Andre Sedano as he flits between romantic relationships, fails at jobs, prostitutes himself, distances himself from his family and takes enough drugs to make Iggy Pop sputter. With only two constants in his life—his ever-loyal best friend and occasional band mate, Mike Vella, and his on-again, off-again love, Lorraine DiLauro—Andre often bottoms out in jail or, most often, in the hospital. Though he always has the potential to make something of his talents, he constantly sabotages himself by getting arrested or overdosing. With precious little in the way of an overarching narrative, the book is best described as episodic as Vincent charts Andre’s fall from a fun-loving kid of privilege to an eventual victim of AIDS. The book is at its best when Vincent is patient enough to stick with one storyline for longer than a few pages, as when Andre and Lorraine move into a seedy hotel in Paterson, N.J., where Andre works as the receptionist. Andre struggles to make a relatively honest living and avoid drugs and booze, all while maintaining a stable relationship with Lorraine. Addiction, however, is always a threat. After the inevitable test of wills, the narrative shifts in a way that doesn’t advance the plot. Also, characters trend toward the stereotypical. For instance, Matt Bradford, a secondary character, is “a popular bad boy from the wrong side of town.” Even those tolerant of a cliché or two may be put off by the novel’s meandering prose and relentless insistence that to be wasted is to be interesting.

Needs a clearer sense of narrative with less reliance on well-worn phrases.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-1300390534

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2013

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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