The co-editor of the punkish Between C&D--the literary voice of New York City's Lower East Side--debuts with a gripping, realist fiction set in that very landscape: the urban wilderness also known as Alphabet City. Despite the narrator's endless posturing as a ""street dude"" and ""homeboy,"" his efforts to gentrify a once-abandoned building pit him against those he most often emulates--the impoverished Hispanics, the violent junkies, and other underclass types who dwell amidst the filth and rubble. Jo-Jo Peltz dropped out of school in suburban Long Island--a bored druggie at 14. Nowadays, he works at his family's uptown newsstand, where he met his wife-to-be, a French-born stripper who scored a quick $30,000 in settlement for a violent attack by her boss. With their newfound wealth, Jo-Jo, Annabelle, and their baby, Constance, buy into a cooperative on Avenue D, ""the toughest street in America,"" and also the place where Jo-Jo's Hungarian-Jewish grandparents first settled in 1903. With the weight of history behind him, Jo-Jo, the eventual president of the co-op, enlists in the Darwinian struggle against the poor renters, ""the enemy, plain and simple."" After paying off most of them, the owners must deal with one recalcitrant squatter, the violent Carlos DeJesus, who actively sabotages efforts to improve the building. Much of the plot boils down to this basic battle for survival--a conflict that ends in conflagration and death. What gives the novel life, though, is not its casual cynicism, but its unerring portrayal of street life, a constant source of drama and entertainment. Rose's tale of homesteading in the postmodern city can be annoying in its affectations, especially the narrator's use of Black English. Nevertheless, there's a compelling if somewhat weird sense of both community and history in this book--a fiction that thinks it's only about survival, plain and simple.
Pub Date: Oct. 27, 1988
Page Count: -
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown