A startling and eerie second novel by Benderson (Pretending to Say No, 1991, etc.) provides an unvarnished glimpse into a netherworld of drug dealers, transvestites, transsexuals, and prostitutes. When Apollo, a male stripper and hustler who has been doing large quantities of drugs, attacks Casio, the ex-con junkie turned bouncer at the porn theater in which Apollo works, it sends out ripples that reverberate throughout the sleazy world of strip joints and rip-off joints that both men inhabit. Pargero, a cop with a more than sentimental attachment to the transvestite strippers of that milieu and a familial tie to Mrs. Huxton, its unseen empress, begins looking for Apollo. Baby Pop, Casio's 14-yearold son, a math genius who lives in the Port Authority bus terminal, vows revenge. Apollo goes in search of a hiding place, ending up with his only real friend, a nameless white middle-class gay man with AIDS. Swirling around the action are a strange cast of hustlers, lowlifes, and no-hopers -- crack addicts, sex addicts, transsexual junkies, and would-be beauticians -- held together in a sinister dance of sex, money, drugs, and need. Benderson depicts this sphere in a merciless light, without judgment but unflinchingly, in a prose that is hypnotically descriptive and powerfully rhythmic. He moves easily between the voices of his protagonists, from the sullen suspiciousness of Apollo to the wry self-knowledge of the nameless man with AIDS. The result is a book that echoes the universe of Hubert Selby (who is invoked in one passage) and the teeming sexuality of John Rechy. An impressive book, but one that many readers will find relentlessly unpleasant. Benderson has a tremendous talent and a real feel for the night-world of New York; the question is how much readers can take.