Teach the Free Man: Stories

Peter Nathaniel Malae, Author
Peter Nathaniel Malae, Author . Ohio Univ./ Swallow $28.95 (258p) ISBN 978-0-8040-1098-6 ISBN 978-0-8040-1099-3
Hardcover - 258 pages - 978-0-8040-1098-6
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The consequences of crime and violence govern Malae's debut collection, in which conflicts frequently come to brutal resolutions. The characters, whose lives revolve around California prisons, primarily focus on survival. Yet, as the narrator of "The Story" realizes while he watches his son go through the system, "survival always has a price, even if you can't see it." "Reliable Vet Dad, Reliable Con Son" recounts how a prisoner channels his father's Vietnam experience to help him hack San Quentin. In "Turning Point" an ex-con learns that life outside prison can be just as dangerous as life inside. At his best, Malae incorporates colloquial language into gripping, tension-filled episodes to reveal the inner workings of a complicated social structure: In "Before High Desert," a young criminal named Ya Ya struggles to fit into the prison hierarchy, while in "Tags," a Samoan inmate is willing to sell out his Samoan friend to maintain the order of his gang. At times Malae's plots are short on clarity and suffer from repetition, while judgments about his characters lack subtlety. Still, in his vivid depictions of incarcerated life and his development of believable voices, Malae shows promise. (Mar.)

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