AMERICAN SON

Brian Ascalon Roley, Author . Norton $13 (217p) ISBN 978-0-393-32154-8

Hard-hitting and brash, this debut novel takes a cold, clear-eyed look at the American immigrant experience. Come home, urges Uncle Betino in a letter from Manila at the beginning of Roley's tale. But Betino's sister Ika, divorced from her American husband and living in the U.S. with her two sons born in the Philippines, believes even the harsh struggle to survive in California is better than living under the strict caste system of her homeland. One of her boys, Tomas, has assumed the persona of a young Mexican street thug and is helping her make ends meet by raising and selling guard dogs to rich clients. His brother, Gabe, the story's narrator and the good son, seeks to understand the mysteries of his adopted country. Roley uses the familiar Cain-and-Abel approach to illustrate the occasionally vicious tug of wills between the two youths, whose relationship is being slowly altered by the outside forces of the alien American culture. Formerly deemed a mama's boy, Gabe runs away, stealing his brother's prized Oldsmobile and best dog, trying to escape his brother's growing influence. It's not long before he is back home, ashamed and ready to submit to the will of both his brother and America. His mother looks on sadly as both of her boys are swallowed up by the American dream and the promise of the prosperous life at all costs. Despite rare lulls in the plot and an occasional glitch in the novel's overall strong structure, this is a powerhouse story of vulnerable strangers in a brutal, alien land told with stylish restraint, bare-knuckled realism and tender yet tough clarity. (May)

Reviewed on: 05/14/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
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