East Bay Grease

Eric Miles Williamson, Author
Eric Miles Williamson, Author Picador USA $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-19861-9
Paperback - 260 pages - 978-0-312-20404-4
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-0-7475-4363-3
Paperback - 248 pages - 978-0-7475-4538-5
Hardcover - 274 pages - 978-1-937746-07-0
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Williamson's generally impressive debut charts the coming-of-age of a young man burdened by poverty, a dysfunctional family and a violent milieu, but endowed with what may turn out to be the saving grace: musical talent. In Oakland, Calif.'s tough neighborhood of bikers, drifters and Mexican immigrants during the late '60s and early '70s, T-Bird Murphy moves from childhood to his late teen years, developing a vengeful attitude as a protective carapace. When T-Bird's neglectful, promiscuous mother decamps with a Hell's Angels lover, the boy goes to live with his ex-con father in a trailer next to a gas station. His two half-brothers leave foster homes to join them, but the vision of a reunited family is later destroyed by the younger siblings' senseless, violent deaths. In elementary school T-Bird makes friends and enemies as he oscillates between two identities and alliances: nerds and thugs; he makes good grades, but he also steals, smokes, drinks and indulges in other antisocial behavior. His nascent talent on the trumpet is encouraged by a school field trip to Reno for a jazz band competition, but, like most hopeful events in T-Bird's life, the experience sours in drunken frustration. His on-the-road adventures with a Mexican jazz band, Los Asesinos, in high school, invigorate the novel with vivid details of creative development. Yet T-Bird is always tainted by the code of blood revenge that haunts his past and present and commits him to an act of brutality that almost results in a man's death. Later, a specialized construction job sets him on a fateful road trip. A belatedly revealed secret about his parentage leads to a denouement of wary reconciliations. T-Bird's bleak life is depicted with stark and candid details, though at times his auxiliary misadventures dissipate the drama his story could yield. The cumulative and potent portrayal, however, is of a low and ugly corner of contemporary culture, and of a resilient young man who desperately fights and anxiously surmounts the odds stacked against him. (Mar.)
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