Accept the idea of ennobling an addict-gangleader's obsession with Honor, and Property Of could be stunning, enthralling tragedy. Reject it, and Hoffman's first novel is still an unmistakably gifted work, lavishing heart and craft on intractably unsympathetic materials. Hoffman finds poetry--terse, tough poetry--in her unnamed narrator's doomed infatuation with McKay, president of the Orphans, a street gang whose turf is ""the Avenue"" near the New York City-Nassau County line. We never learn who she is, though her voice is clearly middle-class and literate, any more than we learn why McKay is insensitive, a thief, a killer, an addict. No sociological cop-outs, then, just acute observation--of the Orphans (Machiavellian pusher Dolphin, hopeless Danny the Sweet), of the ""girls in mascara and leather and silence"" who are the Orphans' ""Property."" And love. ""It's only love,"" she says. ""Don't use that word again,"" McKay says. ""Then I'll take what I can get."" What she can get is front-seat sex on the George Washington Bridge, shared needles and spoons (""It was only white powder and the blue liquid of his vein and love""), and shared despair when McKay loses honor--by accidentally shooting a rival leader in the back. ""Without one word, McKay was without the world,"" and without heroin, he's reduced to Darvon and Thunderbird, he's deposed, beaten up, and busted. She waits for him, only to find that he comes out of prison a vengeful coke pusher (""it's a start"") and an enthusiastic user. Except for occasional pretentious/romantic overkill, Hoffman's heroine records the slow and sudden dyings with clarity, irony, suppressed lyricism--and even recognizes the problems that many readers will face. ""Ah, I see. You can't forget that all of the words are draped in black leather."" No, most of us can't, but we'll read anyway and wait for more from Alice Hoffman.