...[a] staggering debut collection ... Each tale of incarceration expands this theater of grim comedy, repercussive tragedy, and warped adaptation ... In stories that range from high-definition realism to wistful surrealism, Dawkins illuminates the nuances of prison life from the fragility of inmate friendships to the constant assault of memories and regrets, sensual deprivation, the intricate web of lies and power plays, and the many shades of stoicism. Sorrowful, hard-hitting, and compassionate, these finely formed, quietly devastating stories are told with unusual and magnetizing authority.
Almost every one of the 14 short stories in the collection seems to have originated from something Dawkins experienced or witnessed in jail or prison, and almost every one reflects with devastating compassion on the guilt and regrets of the criminals inside ... It's well-written and worth reading for Dawkins' craft and insight, but it's also an occasion to consider an industry that has little to do with rehabilitation, and that makes it nearly impossible for its participants to recuperate their lives.
Dawkins' stories may well be therapy, but they are more than just the scribbling of a guy who's trying to acclimate his psyche and his physical self to a lifetime of incarceration. His prison stories are insightful and well written, and they ring true. Dawkins possesses the acquired wisdom of a man who's been there, done that and, unfortunately, is staying there.
Whatever one makes of the circumstances behind his incarceration, he’s unquestionably a keen observer of the psychological tools inmates use to sustain themselves behind bars ... Dawkins isn’t much interested in the clichéd tales of prison violence, overcrowding, sexual assault, and drug abuse, though such themes occasionally surface. Nor does he dwell much on the reasons for his protagonists’ imprisonment...For Dawkins, the true defining element of prison life is tedium ... A well-turned and surprising addition to prison literature.
It’s hard to imagine approaching this debut collection of short stories, set in the US prison system, without the knowledge that Curtis Dawkins is a prisoner serving a life sentence without parole ... The existence of violence is acknowledged, but it’s left at the margins of the narrative ...Dawkins has a genius for bringing characters to life and making mundane situations compelling, if only because they feel so real ... Most of the characters reflect on the past; the empty days of prison become a mirror in which they continually face the shortcomings that brought them here ... is a debut, and like most debuts, it isn’t perfect. It has its overwrought images, its passages of cod Denis Johnson, its ill-judged foray into magical realism.
...the 14 stories in this debut collection give a fascinating human dimension to the lives of prisoners and the world that they inhabit ... Dawkins’s tales impress with the authenticity of real-life experience, and his prose is rich in metaphor and imagery ... His often wryly amusing observations about the routines of prison life make him a striking guide for navigating the terrain.