The First Thing Smoking by Nelson Eubanks

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Here is a provocative and fresh new voice in fiction, and a stunning collection of seventeen interconnected short stories set in the urban and exotic locales of New York City and Brazil. In dazzling, jazz-like prose that pulses with the rhythm of the street, Nelson Eubanks traces the influences on and evolution of Maceo, from impressionable adolescent to twentysomething man–each snapshot of memory bursting with event and emotion.

In “Malta Scheffer,” nine-year-old Maceo slips out of a white world of private schools to fade back into his brown world where stickball and dreams of glory just may provide the ticket out of poverty. “The First Thing Smoking” explores the prejudice and hatred that exist within a family, when skin color varies between darker and lighter shades of black. In “Uncle Raymond” eighteen-year-old Maceo learns about his uncle who once showed such musical promise, but later, inexplicably, descended into mental illness. “Avenida Atlântica” and “A Lie in Seven Parts” depict an older Maceo, as he tries to escape his growing awareness of lust and desire as well as the racial strife and violence of his childhood that has peppered the towns of Brazil.

Emerging family secrets, changing neighborhoods, the politics of class and education, the disintegration of relationships, waning passions–Nelson Eubanks seamlessly blends these powerful themes into a rich work of fiction. The First Thing Smoking heralds the arrival of a powerful and nuanced literary talent.

About Nelson Eubanks

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Nelson Eubanks was born and raised in New Jersey. He is a graduate of the Columbia university M.F.A. writing program. His story “Uncle Raymond” appeared in the anthology Mending the World, edited by Rosemarie Robotham, senior editor at Essence magazine. This is his first story collection. He resides in New Orleans and is currently working on his first novel.
Published July 29, 2003 by One World/Ballantine. 224 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Pieces about the adult Maceo and the personal, educational, and romantic compromises he makes are less interesting—though the concluding “A Lie in Seven Parts,” set in Bahia, vividly evokes Maceo’s confusions as part of an odd ménage including the German woman he loves and a sybaritic sexual pred...

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Publishers Weekly

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Eubanks records Maceo's passage from street games to Ivy League schooling in stories and shorter prose-poem pieces, shifting back and forth from jazzy, streetwise action to impressionistic observation.

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