cover image Bodega Dreams

Bodega Dreams

Ernesto Quinonez, Ernesto Quiinonez. Vintage Books USA, $14 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-375-70589-2

Praise the lord and pass the hooch: this galvanizing debut is the novel East Harlem has been waiting for since the days of the Young Lords. Quinonez has a poet's ear for the barrio's Spanglish rhythms and idioms, a brujo's gift for describing its alma, and an intense, unrelenting streetwise energy. The book features a cast of memorable characters, including dim-witted Neno, who can't complete a sentence without quoting a song lyric; the nefarious barrio lawyer Nazario; the drug runner and possible hitman Sapo, who would rather be flying a kite from the top of a tenement; and cameo appearances by many real artists and poets. But at the heart of everything is Willie Bodega, a former Young Lord who has become the biggest drug lord of them all. Bodega is also one of the most visionary and magnanimous characters in contemporary fiction. He hands out money for tuition, rent, whatever anyone needs--asking only loyalty in return. Bodega has a dream of what Spanish Harlem could become, and no scruples at all about how the money to fuel his dream is acquired. ""We were all insignificant,"" says Chino, the narrator, ""dwarfed by what his dream meant."" Chino is an artist who can wax positively lyrical when he is not trading hilarious banter. The plot is basic noir--the fall of an anti-hero--but it is wrapped with a glittering array of scams and schemes that keep it all hopping. Both dreams and realities are compellingly and coolly styled by this exciting new author, and the very few first novel faux pas don't much distract from his insightful and significant achievement. Agent, Gloria Loomis. Author tour. (Mar.) FYI: Quinonez was named one of the Village Voice's 1999 Writers on the Verge.