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"Stop Breakin Down" is Hollins graduate John McManus' first collection of short stories. "Duty" by Bob Greene is another account of the World War II generation.

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A Whole Greater Than its Parts
Voice, setting, and, of course, character, are just a few of the paths readers can follow to find their way into the 15 short stories that make up "Stop Breakin Down" (Picador, $18), Hollins graduate John McManus' first collection. But none of these elements exist in and of themselves. Rather, as in all satisfying stories, stories that leave their readers unsettled but enlightened, even enriched, they combine with other facets of storytelling to form a whole greater than the sum of their parts. And that whole, while so often here distressing, is also, in the end, somewhat encouraging — we know so much more about what it means to be human.

In "Megargel," the collection's bleak opening story, McManus gives us an abusive grandfather berating his adolescent grandson during a Mississippi Delta summer. In "Die Like a Lobster," it's a gay man in the Portland Goth scene dying of AIDS and suffering, he insists, from "maggots in the brain."

In "The Magothy Fires," set in working-class England, it's a boyhood "friend" of the protagonist making him lick the blood from the brick wall he has just run him into in the heat of a soccer game. And in the collection's title story (and perhaps its best), set on the freeways of the Baltimore beltway, it's four young people expressing the despair of youth as they drive an impromptu race no one can win, going nowhere, realizing they have nowhere to go and perhaps never will.

Language is unconventional here, and sentence structure often fractured, making the reading at times dense and difficult, reminiscent, perhaps, of Thomas Pynchon. Lines such as "It's dark it's black bleck blick block bluck and the wolves will snare me ..." are common, and in none of the book is dialogue placed in quotation marks. But the stories of "Stop Breakin Down" benefit from the unconventional, as the complexity and confusion of the prose reflects these same aspects of the characters' lives. And the reader, having experienced this complexity and confusion, will leave these pages having experienced as well a disturbing, but incisive and certainly welcome, new voice.

— Jeff Lodge



The Legacy of World War II
Bob Greene, nationally syndicated columnist, commentator and author, has continuously served heaping portions of Americana that detail time-tested traditional values. In an undisguised, straightforward style, he has simply recorded his thoughts about the curiosities and foibles of everyday people and larger-than-life legends. His latest book, "Duty" (William Morrow, $27) starts when the author's father, a revered World War II infantryman, who had fearlessly battled against the Axis powers, is forced to surrender to death. From the depths of personal sadness, an unlikely friendship forms when the author returns to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, for the funeral. Greene meets Paul Tibbetts, the pilot of the Enola Gay which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and drastically shortened World War II.

Tibbetts is a shy, quiet, unassuming man who never calls attention to his action, but who is sufficiently impressed with Greene's column about the Ohio Air Museum in Dayton to initiate first contact. This leads to a mesmerizing dialogue and reminiscence about an era when American pride was dominant and departure from patriotic ideals was never an option. It was during these exchanges that the author begins to comprehend the mask of stoicism and reserve his late father used to conceal feelings. Through Paul Tibbetts, the reader will relive an uncertain period where boyhood is sacrificed and blooms into overnight maturity and commitment to absolute obedience, an obedience that left no room for dissention or rebellion.

The tone of "Duty" is intensely introspective as Tibbetts relates how, after the war, men returned to reconstruct their family lives and occupations, never using combat as an excuse for laziness. This was a generation that kept shared experiences private and didn't broadcast participation to bolster any flagging self-esteem.

"Duty" marks the handing of honor's torch to the next generation.

— Bruce Simon.



Heads-Up:
Barnes & Noble at Libbie Place has organized a cultural affairs discussion group for the deaf, using American Sign Language. Led by Ray Anderson, certified American Sign Language instructor, the group will discuss books, the arts and social events. It meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. It is free and open to the public. The next meeting is Tuesday, Oct. 10, when the group will talk about titles and best sellers.

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