GOD'S POCKET by Pete Dexter
Kirkus Star


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God's Pocket"" is a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood--and this strong, vivid, uneven first novel follows a sad handful of its denizens (plus one even sadder outsider) through the bleak, black-comic aftermath of a low-key murder. Leon Hubbard, 24, a sullen creep with a straight-razor fetish, has gotten a construction job--thanks to his doting mother Jeanie and his new-ish stepfather Mickey Scarpato, a meat-truck-driver with distant ""connections"" . . . and no illusions about the supposedly-reformed Leon. (""Nothing would turn the kid around but a chance to run you over twice."") On the job, however, Leon terrorizes an old, black, dedicated bricklayer--who quite reasonably whaps Leon on the head with a lead pipe. Leon is dead; the construction foreman tells the cops (one shrewd, one epically dumb) it was an accident; everyone's satisfied--except the shell-shocked Jeanie. She instinctively feels that she hasn't gotten the whole Leon story. She also wants a fine send-off for her dead son. And Mickey, a loser who feels undeserving of pretty Jeanie, is soon having a grim, farcical time trying to come up with a $6000 funeral: losing the casket fund at the track; carrying Leon's body (tossed out by the bestial mortician) around in his stolen refrigerator-truck; hawking a load of rotting meat, then the truck itself. Meanwhile, however, Jeanie is being gently seduced by burnt-out Richard Shellburn, ""the most famous newspaper columnist in Philadelphia,"" who comes to interview Jeanie for a column and instantly finds a soulmate; Jeanie, feeling ""deserted"" by Mickey, is eager enough for some explicit outdoor sex--which is interrupted by a collie--but will only go so far with her adorably woebegone suitor. (""Did Richard Shellburn think she was the kind to walk into a hotel room, with Leon still waiting to be buried, and tell him she loved him too? All in all, she'd rather of been raped."") So Shellburn will eventually try to immortalize Leon in his column--an unfortunate credo about the ""dirty dignity"" of the working class. . . which leads to his own demise in a God's Pocket bar. This contrived finale is one of several over-reaching effects here: Dexter (himself a Philadelphia columnist) often slides from ironic naturalism into stagey black comedy. Too many undeveloped subplots--including the bloody, mob-related fortunes of Mickey's dull-witted colleague Bird--wrestle for attention. And unlike Bill Griffiths' similar Time for Frankie Coolin, this lacks a powerfully steady commitment to the fascination of plain, perilous working-class lives. But, if too busy and unfocused to register a clear novel-length impact, Dexter's debut offers a variety of gifted sequences along the way: sharp character-sketches, neighborhood atmosphere, raw dialogue, comic/dreadful moments--and, at its best, a sense of soldiering on down dead-end streets.

Pub Date: Feb. 6th, 1983
Publisher: Random House