HOT WIRE by James Brown


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Three young working-class brothers go through some rough ups-and-downs--as first-novelist Brown offers a half-convincing slice of Los Angeles life, with the texture of a low-budget movie (or R-rated YA fiction) rather than that of a fullfledged novel. Sonny is 20; Alex is 18; Lonnie is 15. They all live with their widowed mother Tania, a chubby waitress at Denny's who's having an increasingly serious affair with nice, fat Dan, the divorced father of two. So Tania, never the most stable of mothers, now has less energy for coping with her sons' volatile behavior: sullen Lonnie, repeatedly arrested for ""hotwiring"" automobiles, is trying to go straight, attending a posh private school while waiting for his probation hearing; hyper Alex, something of a downright psychopath, is dealing and sniffing cocaine; and Sonny, the family's rock of strength (relatively speaking), is working at at a gas-station, obsessively pursuing an acting career, and drinking to deal with all the family/work pressures. For a while, Lonnie seems to improve a little, even dating a smart rich-girl from his new school. But, thanks to awful Alex, Lonnie loses the girl, does some hot-wiring and joy-riding again, then winds up in the hospital--after a violent encounter with Alex's drug-thug enemies. And finally, while Tania marries Dan and Sonny suddenly seems headed for super-stardom (naturally), there's a nasty Sonny/Alex fight, obnoxious Alex clears out. . . and Lonnie is about to find a sturdy, caring home at last (in Sonny's new apartment) at the sugary fadeout. Brown does best here in the low-key, nitty-gritty vignettes of fractured family-life, with some grimly convincing dialogue. Elsewhere, however, he opts for clichÉd melodrama (car chases, etc.) and sentimentality, especially when it comes to Sonny's trite yearnings for fame-and-fortune. (""What kept him awake nights was the constant fear of growing old and never having been a contender."") Earnest, blue-collar teenage blues--sporadically involving, too often superficial and predictable.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1984
Publisher: Arbor House