gutterpunk by Steve Purcell


young girl with a cue
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A teenage runaway finds salvation in a pool hall in Purcell’s debut novel.
Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne is getting ready for school when her drug addict mother’s boyfriend begins to fondle her. She burns him with an iron and leaves home, embracing life on the streets as a “gutterpunk.” With her box cutter as her only protection, she navigates a perilous urban underworld, sleeping in derelict buildings in dangerous neighborhoods. One day, she’s squatting outside a pool hall when the owner arrives to open up—a sharp-witted, retired homicide cop named Fast Eddie Mack. He invites Cheyenne inside to use the pool-hall restroom and then hands her $50 to buy them both takeout. She considers pocketing the cash and fleeing but thinks better of it. After she passes this test, Eddie and his wife, Rowena, take Cheyenne under their wing, and they teach her how to play pool, give her a job and offer her a low-rent apartment above the hall. Cheyenne becomes obsessed with the game of eight ball and finds a new idol in professional pool player Jeanette Lee. By practicing all hours of the day, Cheyenne builds her talent to tournament level, and she eventually has an opportunity to play against her heroine. The past never truly leaves Cheyenne behind, however; she sees her best friend from her street days stomped to death by a gang, and Butch, her mother’s meth-head boyfriend, continues to loom menacingly in the shadows. The author writes fluidly, and the main storyline often makes for compulsive reading. However, the plot eventually becomes excessively elaborate: A chance for Cheyenne to work in Hollywood crops up, as do memories of her firefighter father who died in 9/11, and a local race war sends shock waves all the way to the White House. The story also features an abrupt, ill-considered ending. Readers expecting a work that captures the vitriolic defiance of punk will likely find this novel surprisingly cloying, as it includes disappointingly little information about the gutterpunk subculture.

A sometimes-engaging but unfocused novel.
Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2014
Page count: 209pp
Publisher: Book Baby
Program: Kirkus Indie
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