Little Boy Blue

Eddie Bunker, Author, Edward Bunker, Author
Eddie Bunker, Author, Edward Bunker, Author St. Martin's Press $22.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-16907-7
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How an intelligent boy can turn into a hardened criminal when luck goes against him is chronicled in almost clinical detail in Bunker's fourth novel. We first meet Alex Hamilton in 1943, when he's 11 and his hopes for a normal life depend on the ability of his father, a working-class single parent, to secure a stable job and rescue the boy from a youth home in postwar Southern California. But Alex runs away from the home after attacking the woman who runs it, and his luck continues to be bad when his father dies in an auto accident. His judgment proves worse than his luck when he shoots a storekeeper who catches him in the middle of a burglary. By the time he enters the juvenile penal system, he's a human time bomb with a hidden violent streak. Bunker tries to give his story some dimension by making Alex clearly a smart kid who loves books. But he doesn't make much out of Alex's inability to translate his love of literature into anything resembling genuine learning or insight. As Alex bounces from one awful facility to the next, he grows into a career criminal. Bunker is an ex-con, and an intimate, understated knowledge of both the juvenile and the adult penal systems comes through in the novel's details. But the plot barrels forward with a downbeat inevitability that makes the book--especially in comparison to last year's Dog Eat Dog--a monotonous sociological statement. Through a cycle of violent crime followed by imprisonment, escape and subsequent recapture, Alex remains a cipher, an underexplored character who merely serves to exemplify a particular kind of degradation. (Sept.)
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