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ZIP SIX by Jack Gantos

ZIP SIX

By Jack Gantos

Pub Date: Sept. 16th, 1996
ISBN: 1-882593-15-4
Publisher: Bridge Works

The author of numerous children's and YA novels, Gantos turns for the first time to some distinctly adult material in this straightforward jailhouse narrative, yet another novel in which an Elvis impersonator figures prominently. Ray Jakes is a medium-level drug dealer whose luck runs out when his involvement in a drug-smuggling scheme leads to his conviction and a possible six-year sentence. A college dropout, with the vague ambition to become a forest ranger, Jakes finds himself stuck in the limbo of a transfer jail on Manhattan's West Street. His disgusted girlfriend doesn't visit, he has no real friends, and he must also endure the indignities of jailhouse life, from the constant fear of rape to the maddening pervasiveness of vermin. He eventually lands a cushy job on the hospital detail, where he also hooks up with Seth Zimmer, an Elvis impersonator who's in for embezzlement, fraud, tax evasion, and other crimes committed in the name of the King. "A symbol of hope for losers," the pseudo-Elvis mesmerizes a prison talent show, inspiring the warden to send him on the jailhouse circuit, with Jakes as his manager. Both cons figure this is a way to a short term, but only Elvis manages to cut a deal. Jakes finds his way out by blackmailing the warden with some purloined X-rays proving excessive force by guards, but it means betraying his only friend, a kind prison doctor. Further betrayals mar life outside, when Jakes loses his substantial pre-jail stash in a nasty con executed by his supposed buddy Zimmer. Numerous flashbacks provide a socio-psychological profile of Jakes's rootless youth and of his need to be a follower, a weakness that invariably lands him in trouble. And also makes him thoroughly unlikable. The jailhouse insight in this unsurprising, rather superficial work comes nowhere near the belly of the beast.