Book: The First Thing Smoking
Author: Nelson Eubanks
Published: 2003 (Random House)
Two heritages, one crazy-ass family, several ways of growing up wrong.
I wouldn’t call these short stories, exactly, because they’re all too much innertwined with the same people and the same areas, just on different jumps in their timelines, but they’re too loose to be a novel. I like how they jump over the line like that, like a kid jumping rope next to a busted fire hydrant on a hot afternoon in Brooklyn. One jump you’re there, feeling the sidewalk slap the thin soles of your cheap shoes and sweating your brains out but outside your cramped apartment trying to avoid responsibility for your crazy-ass family, and the next you’re in the middle of Brazil’s Carnival, watching in slack-jawed wonder at all the bare asses and feathers because even though it’s your heritage, you feel like an alien and that’s good and bad at the same time and you can’t get past it until your mom nudges you to go check on your criminal uncle when he’s home for the holidays and suddenly you’re back to what you call home again.
Eubanks’s run-on sentences start with a simple thought or sensation and gather speed quickly, which works really well for his Brazil interludes because you get a sensory overload just like you’re supposed to, but it can be a little annoying as a tick in his more concrete episodes.
But he flows well and gets dialogue right and the last story is really good at tying together the two worlds through another gathering snowball of words, this one of lies that brings the main character to the unpleased true secret of keeping a relationship together (it’s lies, he says).
I like it. But the library wants it back.