Thomas Pak, a 26-year-old Korean American, straggles home broke to Kasdan, Queens, after he is laid off from his restaurant job in Boston. Although Tom is a college graduate, his prospects have sunk along with his hometown neighborhood. Once middle-class with a population of Italians, Asians and blacks, Kasdan is now crime-ridden. Tom takes a job at the Fruit 'n Food, the local market run by a hardworking Korean family, and the store becomes an embattled haven for him, a vulnerable middle-class island in a sea of racially motivated hate and despair. Tom, however, maintains that he is more American than Asian, and more tolerant than his employers, the terrified and driven Rhee family. Small conflicts like shoplifting escalate to armed robberies and to a boycott by some black customers claiming racist harassment by the owners. In the midst of the tension, the Rhees' teenaged daughter rebels against the blinding work ethic of her parents by having an affair with Tom. Tom himself comes to understand the helplessness and fear the Rhees feel only as the violence reaches its natural but horrific finale. In his first novel, Chang ably captures the dislocation rational people experience when faced with violence, but his attempts to maintain a balanced point of view intrude and read like clumsy polemics. Perhaps in his next novel, Chang will attend more to the needs of his story and less to the demands of political correctness. (Nov.) FYI: The Fruit 'N Food has been awarded the first Black Heron Press Award for Social Fiction.