A rap, jive, and video-inflected hallucination of the L.A. black ghetto, winner of the 1992 Nilon Award for minority fiction: a violent, slangy, tour-de-force debut. Unlike Jess Mowry's Way Past Cool (p. 288), which uses more traditional narrative form to explore youthful violence in a California ghetto, Cruz throws the reader into a fast-moving stream of insults, images, physical and emotional brutality. Even readers who understand all the vocabulary will be swept into disorientation—though never boredom—by the cutting and mixing in this druggy, surreal nightmare. ``Alondra bled real black blood mixed with 10W-40 oil and hard water'' opens a chapter in which an L.A. street is personified as a woman: Rodney King, being beaten by police, ``kissed Alondra with his big lips...put his chest up against Alondra, the dark tarred pebbles feeling like hard nipples underneath his skin.'' A prostitute keeps spitting out babies during a conversation. Women are routinely feared, hated, abused, and demeaned. Boyhood friends become enemies, joining different gangs; one young man rapes and murders a friend's mother. Throughout, characters see themselves inside a blaxploitation film, make conversation derived from song lyrics and movies, and find themselves in crime stories in the newspaper, as if Cruz acknowledges that the living world portrayed here to such terrifying effect may owe as much to media-shaped images as to actual people living ghetto lives. Raging energy and cruel humor: so up-to-the-minute it's hard to judge its lasting power, but an explosive package for 1992.
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