Set against the turbulent years following Vietnam, Cue Balls by Siaosi Tusitala is a gripping opening to the William Morgan trilogy, a story that honestly looks at life in the ghettos, crime, poverty, racism, and other ills associated with people struggling to make ends meet, struggling to reclaim their dignity, and struggling to create a space for themselves in a society that is rapidly becoming competitive, with faint “color lines” still visible and injustices exacted at odd moments and in odd places. It is in this setting that William Morgan emerges, his story coming out like a strident voice for the voiceless.
At the beginning of the story, the protagonist is in an interview at a firm that sells ice cream cones. He is jobless, like many other veterans returning from Vietnam, and he is ready for any kind of job because he needs to survive. When the interviewer tells him he’d be selling ice cream cones, he replies, “Right now, I’d shovel shit for a job,” and this not only captures how bleak and desperate his situation may seem, but it also communicates the general economic situation of the time—hard, hopeless, bleak! And this is just a prelude to a life that awaits countless men who have gone down to fight for a country that doesn’t recognize their sacrifice.
It is interesting to see how brilliantly the author weaves his personal war and post-war experiences into this gritty story while providing powerful social commentary that unveils the struggles and heartaches of many people in the California ghettos, a candid questioning of the politics of the time, and a depiction of social realities reminiscent of a decadent age. The writing is clear, light, and beautiful, punctuated by grim humor and powerful descriptions that efficiently showcase the themes in the story. Cue Balls is a multilayered story with a message that will resonate with any struggling human, a powerful call for a return to human dignity.