A West Philly block in 1969.
Joe, a talented musician who now plays his saxophone in the basement, where no one can hear him, is drifting apart from his wife Louise, a nurse. He’d love to get that old feeling back, but she can’t think of anything except how much her gums hurt. Joe can’t help being drawn to the country-girl succulence of young Valadean, a friend’s niece. Not that he has any intention of his daughter Shay finding out: Shay’s always been a daddy’s girl, warmhearted and sweet. If only she could protect her best friend Neet from the sanctimonious meanness of her mother. But Alberta, their next-door neighbor, is so saved, can’t nobody stand her. The teenage girls hang out, flirt, go too far with boys—and Neet pays for her sins when her illegal abortion is badly bungled by the abortionist’s assistant and she barely survives a severe hemorrhage. The Cecil Street neighborhood closes ranks to protect the girls (and the abortionist) from the police. Some of this is heard though not understood by an old homeless woman, Deucie, hiding in Joe’s basement. Deucie—she lives on the cat food Joe sets out—eavesdrops when she’s not lost in memory of the prostitution, poverty, and violence that shattered her fragile sanity. Dying of cirrhosis of the liver, she is determined somehow to find the child she was forced to give up decades ago—when, in a fit of crazed grief, she marked the infant by biting it on the forehead. One of these characters still bears the scar, and what was lost will be found again, though in a somewhat improbable denouement.
Heartfelt fourth from McKinney-Whetstone (Blues Dancing, 1999, etc.), who has a true talent for strong characters, effortlessly natural dialogue, and prose that flows.