Coming of age black, in an impressive debut by a 2001 O. Henry Award winner.
As the story opens, Eddie Bloodpath is ten, his older brother (“Turtle”) twelve—and both are suffering the still-fresh trauma of abandonment. Cruelly and unforgivably, Daddy Bloodpath has decided green pastures lie elsewhere. “He run,” Turtle grimly points out to Eddie. “That. . . son of a bitch, I told you he would.” The boys’ reactions underscore how different they are from each other. Cynical Turtle, already street-smart, rages, his antisocial behavior escalating. Eddie goes silent. For months, he refuses to speak, internalizing his pain, hiding, even from himself, the psychological wreckage so casually inflicted. The two live with their mother and grandmother in bleak South Phoenix, a neighborhood drenched in urban blight. It’s 1995, the time of Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March, though neither of the Bloodpath boys is directly affected by it. A grown Turtle deals drugs, runs whores, goes to prison. Eddie, big and strikingly handsome, and good with his fists, finds in boxing the possibility of a way out: the Golden Gloves, maybe the Olympics, a crack at fat pro purses, options denied other young black men. But always there is Tessa, a prostitute, wondrously beautiful but irretrievably lost—so palpably wrong for Eddie and so compelling. Powerful and often incomprehensible forces pull at him: Tessa, the Nation of Islam, his own conflicting and ever-changing attitudes about a world he never made. He has a mantra, something to use in the ring as well outside it, in his life-and-death struggle with the implacability of “ghettonomics.” “Doubt is the secret desire to fail,” he tells himself insistently.
As a protagonist, Eddie is curiously detached, too much so for real empathy. But on page after page Kalam offers up sharply observed and vividly rendered set pieces, making this a solid first by a writer who bears watching.