Breslin's best book yet is a Bronx update on Romeo and Juliet--with Italian and Puerto Rican drug-dealers as Capulets and...



Breslin's best book yet is a Bronx update on Romeo and Juliet--with Italian and Puerto Rican drug-dealers as Capulets and Montagues--but don't get the wrong idea: this funny, horrible, cruelly affecting novel is no West Side Story-style romanticization. Juliet here, for example, is suburban Nicki Mariani Schiavano, the married daughter of the Mafia's heroin-kingpin for the South Bronx--ruthless at her job (a bank's credit-card division), disenchanted with her husband (currently in jail), and zestfully bigoted: ""If there was one thing she could not stand about Spies, aside from nigger hair, it was that they said 'thas' and 'New Jessey.' "" Nevertheless, Nicki has a powerful lust-at-first-sight reaction to a chance encounter with Maximo Escobar, who looks ""like a fucking movie star."" And Maximo responds similarly--though he's convinced (idiotically) that Nicki loves him for his decency, brains and class; after all, he's an up-from-the-slums Harvard Law grad who has just gotten his idealistic first job--with a South Bronx legal aid service. Unfortunately, however, this Nicki/Maximo misunderstood-attraction is the least of their problems. There's the Italian honor-vengeance tradition--which will get them both killed if Nicki's family finds out about her adultery. Worse yet, there's Maximo's lingering attachment to childhood-chum ""Teenager,"" Breslin's compelling, lethal quasi-Mercutio: with a 30"" waist and 52"" shoulders, drug-prince Teenager is greedy, amoral, superstitious, determined to take over the major heroin action from Mariani. . . who soon puts out a contract on the murdering, un-killable Teenager. And meanwhile, too, in response to one of Teenager's more unnecessary murders, cop Myles Crofton is becoming increasingly obsessed with nailing him. So Breslin expertly moves the focus around, from the odd-couple romance (Nicki slowly softens) to the blithe assassinations to the spotty police work--with such a strong sense of inevitable, wretched doom that momentum is maintained through all the set-pieces and textures: a Santeria concert, family traditions in both camps, nasty glimpses of Democratic machine-politics and juvenile justice, grisly murders, and gutter-perfect street scenes. As convincing as Breslin's Irish/Queens portraits--but without the romantic/Irish lapses: rich, ugly, shrewdly controlled work from an impressively re-invigorated writer.

Pub Date: June 21, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982