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FOGTOWN by Peter Plate


by Peter Plate

Pub Date: June 7th, 2004
ISBN: 1-58322-639-7
Publisher: Seven Stories

The Literary Laureate of San Francisco (The Angels of Catastrophe, 2001, etc., none reviewed) focuses largely on Frisco’s gritty Mission district and its grimy lowlifes.

The greasy morning haze over the district might be what TS Eliot calls the objective correlative for Plate’s characters, like melancholy Hamlet’s black suit, though Plate never makes this match-up with his morally fogbound parolees and drug dealers. He employs an inspired fairy-tale hook to compel the reader to hang on despite thin plotting and at times even thinner writing (What’s wrong with these sentences?: “Holding the money in her palsying hands, the paper shimmered in the daylight”; “Clad in a polyester imitation sarong and an orange suede halter-top, her hair was dyed bright cadmium yellow”), while every paragraph thuds with the passive voice in deadening strings of “was” and “were.” The hook: a Ford Taurus careens onto Market Street and overturns a Brinks armored truck carrying perhaps $3 million. The bloodied guards lie unconscious while sacks of brand-new $100 dollar bills fall from the open doors and strewn bills whip about in the breeze (is it a breezy fog?). Mama Celeste, 80 and religious, just rebuffed at the Social Security office, finds herself standing amid bills, hides a linen Brinks sack under her coat, and hauls it to her room at the rock-bottom Allen Hotel, where she loses count of her take but thinks it may be a million. So she fills a shoebox with a hundred grand and goes out, as God’s messenger, to give to the poor and needy, many of them lying on the streets like spent condoms or cigar wrappers. Also at the Allen: parolee Stiv Wilkins, 25, whose itch to burgle runs as deep as Jean Genêt’s. He, his wife, and baby face eviction; he owes a paranoid black drug dealer, and is in deep merde with his psyche, seeing Mexican ghosts everywhere.

Strong ending—but we saw it before, in René Clair’s Le Million, wasn’t it, with franc notes blowing wildly all over Paris?