Gritty first novel about the bittersweet relationship between a brutalized prostitute and a boozer at the tail end of his last binge: a stark and plausible account of life on the hard-luck side of town. Sera, who is free (but only temporarily) from her sadistic ex- pimp Gamral Fathi (just call him Al), has a good life, of sorts, living ``the story that she knows is working well here'' (``Tricking is still, for her at least, a profitable gamble''). But after a slice-of-life account leaves her beaten when her street- smarts desert her, we switch to Fathi's point of view: he's a total jerk, having come back to Sera (``I must still own her...she knows that I still own her and she is afraid to admit this to herself'') only because his other business ventures have come to nothing. She begins working for him again; then Ben from L.A. appears on the scene: his point of view is modified stream-of-consciousness, otherwise known as first-person intoxicated. He drinks Listerine when he runs out of booze, but, like Sera, he has a good heart, and once the two of them meet (``blood running high with adventure and thin with bourbon, Ben decides to get laid''), they care for each other, more or less. We're given a tour through garish all-night action on the Strip, but finally there's inevitable heartbreak. Ben pawns his watch, sells his car, and moves in with Sera before he gets beaten up by a biker and then screws up yet again by bringing a prostitute to Sera's apartment. Ben leaves, but Sera, with her heart of gold, will arrive at his motel room in time to see him die. Transitions are occasionally awkward, but the story's mostly affecting--characters with little hope are given their due but aren't cheapened with an excess of optimism or sentimentality.