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A stark, engrossing, Hemingway-esque portrait of a life spent in the margins.

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Rutkowski (Haywire, 2010, etc.) delivers a new short story collection, offering sparse prose and pointed observations about one man’s struggle to connect with others.

Born to a serious Chinese immigrant mother and a blustery Polish-American father, the narrator navigates his life with trepidation and uncertainty. To an extent, his childhood in the Appalachians as a young, aspiring artist complements this wariness, as it provides plenty of room for him to explore the great forests, trails, and streams of his home—and the canvasses of his mind. On the other hand, he’s an outsider in most other areas of his life, finding it difficult to relate to other people. His attempts to make friends, find love, and understand those closest to him all seem to fall flat. Later, he discovers a letter from his paternal grandfather, addressed to his parents: “You might love each other now….But think about your children. What will life be like for them? They won’t have friends…and they won’t understand why.” His father is an artist, an alcoholic, and a self-styled revolutionary, while his mother is a grounded woman of numbers and sums who deals with her spouse’s abusive temperament, knowing from experience how much more difficult life can be. Rutkowski shows how the narrator carries his feeling of being between two worlds throughout his life, grappling with questions of family and race, art and science, dreams and reality. Every chapter presents a new vignette, each as tight and condensed as the best flash fiction. Terse, observational prose points out the bare facts of each new situation, above all else. And as each tale moves through new phases in the narrator’s life, there’s always more to discover. The characters are subtly drawn through small, thoughtfully rendered details—the father’s love of Mao and Lenin, the mother’s inability to get anyone to use the children’s Chinese names. These moments make even the shortest snippets stick in one’s mind long after the pages have turned.

A stark, engrossing, Hemingway-esque portrait of a life spent in the margins.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-940724-11-9

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Gival Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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