EL NINO by Douglas Anne Munson


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Lawyer Munson's first novel--about an L.A. lawyer who defends people accused of child abuse while her own life unravels--is a vivid slice-of-life of the underclass and the people who work with them. Sandy Walker, 34, has worked for two years in the juvenile dependency court, where she got involved by ""Fate, ritual, memories bubbling at night like lava."" The story moves between Sandy's work with her clients (children, going through trash cans looking for food, who are taken from parents; a woman ""who wanted Sandy to intercede for her like a saint painted on the glass containers of candles sold in the botanicas. . ."") and her alcoholic, self-destructive private hell. Her dark night of the soul includes promiscuity (graphically described) with various Hispanics (Manuel, an undocumented worker; Francisco Gomez, a rookie cop who waxes philosophical: ""You want to know what I worry about. . .That we all come from pasts we will never understand"") and a life that becomes more and more hallucinatory. In her dreams, Sandy moves ""through an intricate pattern of chambers and corridors."" She's also about to lose her job, trapped increasingly in nihilism: ""Here is the secret of the universe. There is no god, no evil. It's all an accident."" By the close, Sandy's suicidal burnout has tilted the novel to the point where her clients (and Gomez) are helping her as much as she helps them; we get a brief look into the mystic inner life of Jesus Valeria, one of her clients, before returning to Sandy, who survives. Despite the occasionally too psychodramatic prose, this is overall a haunting debut--one that takes on an anguished tour of several kinds of hell.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking