Soon the Rest
(Seven Stories Press)I won't do a New York Review on you, spend twenty-five column-inches rehearsing the plot of this novel. The story is much too bizarre anyway, could never fit into the space we would have to devote to it.
Suffice it to say that there are seven characters here if you include the baby and the dog, but, perhaps, the most interesting character is one called "San Francisco." Not San Francisco as "I left my heart in" nor the one of the travel brochures ... but, rather, one of stoners, angry policemen, pimps, whores, dealers, ex-cons, petty thieves, smoggy decay.
Pickpockets, panhandlers, and speed freaks moiled at Carl's Jr. Bicycle messengers were dodging cars and delivery vans. A Muni bus seething with passengers lumbered toward Van Ness Avenue. Two homeless winos were in a liquor store's doorway begging for money. Whirlwinds of leaves and empty nickel bags flirted in the roadbed.
"The heat in the street was nauseating. The pavement burned like a match head. Slatts was dizzy and ready to puke, which was how he liked things."
Note that the bus was not "filled" (nor "crammed") with passengers ... it was "seething." This is the world of author Peter Plate. It's an urban Tortilla Flat filled with losers, unbearable heat, people constantly on the edge of explosion. Even seven-year-old Diana has had her head shaved like a bullet, can't stand her father, Robert Grogran (recently sprung from San Quentin) ... not even her mother Harriet.
The other oddity in this loose-limbed jittery collection of desperados-by-the-bay are the heroes --- and I use that term advisedly --- Grogan and Slatts. For the three years they were in prison, they were lovers, and apparently an amicable couple. "At first, Robert's romance with Slatts has been casual. It was just a jailhouse fling."
What Robert hadn't counted on was falling love with the guy. It made returning to the world a nightmare.
It gets sticky when Slatts gets out and tells Robert's wife, "I'm your husband's other wife."
Harriet was boggled. "You're his what?"
"Never mind, darling."
Not casual but real love ... behind the bars. I've not run across jail literature like this before. Violence, brutality, fists, madness, rape ... yes. A dreamy tenderness: no.
The notes tell us that Plate is a self-taught writer. It shows: jagged diversions, off-color visions, a very odd ending. But although the story tends to bunch up like dirty clothes stuffed into a tattered Gladstone bag, it works.--- Scott Ball