THE GANGSTER OF LOVE by Jessica Hagedorn


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 Hagedorn's (The Dogeaters, 1990) episodic second novel seems to wander in a fog, as does the heroine who narrates most of this disjointed tale; she migrates in the 1970s with her mother and brother to the US from the Philippines, where she led a sheltered life as a Catholic schoolgirl. In the States, Raquel ``Rocky'' Rivers discovers her rock-and- roll self: She and her depressive brother, Voltaire, idolize Jimi Hendrix. While she scribbles pseudo-Beat poems, he wanders San Francisco's Tenderloin, where he meets aspiring rocker Elvis Chang. Rocky turns 18 and becomes Elvis's lover; they launch a band, The Gangster of Love, with Rocky on vocals. Despite embracing America's pop culture, though, Rocky still feels some loyalty to her overbearing mother Milagros, a spitfire who left her unfaithful husband back in the Philippines and who clings to her old world customs. A sexual prude despite her posturing, Rocky comes under the liberating influence of Keiko von Heller, an artist and free spirit who gradually becomes a pop celebrity. Moving to Los Angeles with the band, Rocky gets to spend time with her uncle Marlon, a gay actor with AIDS, who dreams of going home to die. The band eventually finds some modest success in New York, based on one briefly hot single. Rocky ends up working at a New Age clinic, still obsessing about her family. She eventually replaces the mercurial Elvis with Jake, a solid fellow who works as a recording engineer; they have a daughter, Venus. When Milagros, ``the queen of self pity,'' arrives in New York, she haunts the Imelda Marcos trial and harangues her daughter. Sudden shifts in voice and tense are jarring and ineffective, and the several dream sequences Hagedorn injects are expendable. A diffuse, sometimes frustrating, narrative of a young woman's coming of age in a strange land, with some compelling, if generic, scenes of cross-cultural misunderstanding. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1996
ISBN: 0-395-75412-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996


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