NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU PROMISE TO COOK OR PAY THE RENT YOU BLEW IT CAUZE BILL BAILEY AIN'T NEVER COMING HOME AGAIN

Edgardo Vega Yunque, Author, Ed Vega, Author, Edgardo Vega Yunque, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $25 (656p) ISBN 978-0-374-22311-3

Yunqué's sprawling, old-fashioned debut, a multigenerational melting-pot epic set in New York City in the 1980s, is populated by a host of characters with patchwork identities: white, Puerto Rican, black, rich, poor. At the center of the tangled web is Puerto Rican–Irish Vidamía Farrell, daughter of upwardly mobile Elsa Santiago and Vietnam War vet Billy Farrell. Vidamía meets her father for the first time when she is 12 and discovers that she has two families: she lives with her strict mother and CPA stepfather in an affluent New York suburb, but she is powerfully drawn to her father's bohemian household on Manhattan's rough Lower East Side. Her father is a former jazz pianist whose career was cut short by the war, which cost him two fingers and his sanity. Vidamía is fascinated by his story and becomes fast friends with her stepsister Cookie, a dazzlingly blonde homegirl; when she is almost 17, she falls in love with Wyndell Ross, a black saxophonist. A multitude of secondary characters are fully developed: Elsa, Vidamía's mother, who struggles to leave the barrio behind; Fawn, Cookie's doomed poet sister; Maud, Billy's bar-owning Irish mother. The author's storytelling is unapologetically sentimental and rambling; his loving depiction of New York's Puerto Rican subculture reflects the full spectrum of city life. A brutal rape and a violent act of retaliation bring the novel to a sobering close, but Yunqué (The Comeback , etc.) leaves his readers with a sense of hope and hard-won harmony. (Oct.)

Forecast: Yunqué has long been a fixture on the New York underground literary circuit. The publisher clearly intends for this to be his breakout book, and it does have populist appeal, though some may find its earnest racial explorations dated. Author tour.

Reviewed on: 10/06/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Paperback - 797 pages - 978-0-312-42402-2
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