Stop Breakin Down: Stories

John C. McManus, Author Picador USA $18 (272p) ISBN 978-0-312-26278-5
The 15 stories in McManus's rambunctious debut collection are imbued with an admirable sense of urgency as they describe the lives of characters pushed into society's margins--young, impoverished, pansexual, drug-using wanderers. McManus not only studies the marginal status of these youths, he also keenly synthesizes their inner thoughts with sharp dialogue. In the off-beat ""The Body Painters,"" Jim finds himself an outsider among his cocaine-snorting peers, who walk around naked in artsy body paint. ""June 1989,"" one of the collection's best entries, features a younger protagonist, 10-year-old Matthew, who is ashamed of being poor but is na ve about it, asking his neglectful parents, ""Why don't we have a back door?"" Less innocent youth culture, in the clubs, bars, cities and neighborhoods, dominates the other tales, with characters speaking in expletive-ridden slang, looking to get laid and living in an alcohol and drug-induced delirium. McManus's dizzying subjects sometimes blur, as his untethered style can be confusing. ""What I Remember About the Cold War"" is a disjointed tale about a drug dealer obsessed with Y2K, and ""Sleep on Stones"" is told in an alternating first- and second-person narrative as the main character plants endless rows of poisonous kudzu. All the characters here seem to rush and tumble toward disaster, most literally in ""The Feed Zone,"" in which two bicycle racers in Tennessee turn to fighting and sabotage, and in the compelling title story (to be published in Ploughshares), which tells of two cars full of drunken friends crazily driving the 50-mile loop in the Baltimore beltway. Speed and adrenaline oscillate in this collection, but only a few stories peak incoherently. McManus impresses mainly with his manic vision and with the vibrant and unrestrained energy of his exciting new voice. Regional author tour. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/29/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-312-27448-1
Paperback - 263 pages - 978-0-312-26397-3
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