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Edgewater Angels

Sandro Meallet

Vintage Contemporaries / Doubleday

US Trade Paperback

ISBN 0-375-72561-X

Publication Date: 08-13-2002

336 Pages; $13.00

Date Reviewed: 11-25-02  

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



General Fiction

The voice of an angry young man is one of the most familiar in recent literature. There's an assumption that the anger itself is enough, that the voice itself is enough to carry a reader through episodes that are not a story. In 'Edgewater Angels', Sandro Mallet tells the stories of gangbanging pre-adolescents in a powerful argot that never hesitates to hit the reader upside the head with strongconnected cramwords to convey his point of view. Some readers may be driven to distraction, but if you give Meallet's language a chance, his stories are powerful vignettes of a subculture of urban survival. The mean streets of San Pedro are filled potential for mischief and wonder. Meallet finds both, and evokes them easily with his inventive wordsmithing. More a collection of connected short stories than a novel with a strong and focused arc, 'Edgewater Angels' just barely manages to contain the rage of innocent children forced to become violent adults.

The opening chapter was published as a short story in The Atlantic Monthly, and while it's a fascinating story, it doesn't really convey the flavor of the rest of the narrative. Sunny Toomer is the sort of ringleader of a group of twelve year old boys who are making an instant leap from the playtime of childhood to a life of violence and hopelessness in the ugly projects of San Pedro. Meallet proves himself to be a master of showing, not telling, as he portrays the short lives and sad deaths of his characters. Domestic violence is the default family behavior if a father lives at home. But for Sunny and most of his friends, fathers are an ever-looming absence in their lives. Their mothers run through lovers varying from violent to homicidal. The children have no anchor, no center, nothing to attract them except the potential for mischief that rapidly and easily escalates to GTA. Goaded by the boyfriends and the community elders, young men grown hard and fast, theft and violence are a natural. Sunny manages an occasional escape to the quietude of the library, but it's not too long before he's pulled into the street to deliver a package or drive a car.

Meallet carries the reader along on a tide of strungtogether compoundwords that eventually becomes natural. Because he's not telling the story in a typical novelistic arc, his characters take a while to coalesce. In the various vignettes Meallet stands out as a creator of powerful indelible scenes. A recently paroled father tells his son and Sunny the facts of life sitting in a car while parked at Point Fermin, overlooking the silvered Pacific Ocean. Two twelve-year olds experience the explosive freedom of driving a car for the first time through the slums of Los Angeles. Men die, babies are born, and Meallet's surreal language verges on the supernatural. 'Edgewater Angels' has a lot of powerful scenes.

What 'Edgewater Angels' lacks is the unifying thesis and drive of a novel. This is not that much of a problem, once your expectations as a reader have been adjusted. And the powerful closing section makes a valiant attempt to draw together the diverse threads of Meallet's vision. The author has perfectly captured the fractured life of youth without hope. The seaside setting, the fatherless children forced to become instant adults, the pernicious terror of the "rollers" of the LAPD will knock around in the reader's head long after the book is finished. Though Meallet is clearly a talented writer, the reader can't help thinking that 'Edgewater Angels' could have benefited from some editorial intervention, to either format the work as a series of connected short stories, or to find an arc beyond the language and anger that connect the front of the novel to back. It's almost as if the novel were forced to go through the same sort of instant adulthood that the characters go through. 'Edgewater Angels' is the work of an angry young man who has the makings of an accomplished writer. Readers will look forward to see what the instant adult has to say.