A probation officer wouldn't seem to be a very promising narrator for a story about Chicano youth, but in this case he turns out to be the right kind of concerned but neutral observer, one distanced enough to reduce the character of young gang leader Manuel Castillo to a series of dramatic, highly symbolic gestures. We first meet Manuel in the bullring, where he leaps from the stands to confront a charging bull and, hopefully, demonstrate his machismo to a young lady; he is last seen throwing himself under a mechanical grape picker in a desperate gesture of defiance against the automation of the local vineyard. In between, Manuel's naive but fiery idealism pits him against Ernie Sierra -- a smooth operator and leader of the rival Owls who turns out to be smuggling heroin from Mexico via homing pigeons. Like the bull and cock fights that apotheosize the action, Manuel's nobility can best be appreciated as an aesthetic abstraction; Odell tells the tale -- and it's a compelling one -- with enough laconic conviction to make this possible, while at the same time using the skeptical comments of the officer's pragmatic minded wife Alice as a foil. And when we question whether the officer really sees the truth about Manuel, then we remember that his reactions are filtered through his own frequently expressed sense of futility and uninvolvement. Contemporary parables are a tricky business; O'Dell invests this one with a self-contained dignity, and it can be read as a psychological thriller even while one is pondering just how deep the vein of fatalism really runs.