cover image Slow Motion Riot

Slow Motion Riot

Peter Blauner. William Morrow & Company, $20 (431pp) ISBN 978-0-688-10068-1

Blauner, an editor at New York magazine, comes achingly close to pulling off a gripping first novel. The two protagonists--young probation officer Steve Baum, fighting (sometimes successfully) New York City's bureaucracy on behalf of his clients, and 18-year-old crackhead Darryl King, a compassionless drug dealer--are on a collision course. Baum struggles with his Auschwitz survivor father (who disapproves of Baum's job and hoards food), his new girlfriend (half-white, half-black, dauntingly upper-middle-class) and the numbing justice system. King struggles with his mother (an ex-heroin addict), drug-world rivals, his probation for car theft and the possible revelation of a murder he's committed. New York seems almost totally bleak, its underclass wretchedness horrifying Baum but barely fazing King. The final confrontation, with Baum held hostage in a housing project, ends explosively. Despite vivid glimpses of the city in extremis and some ironic moments (King's mother says modern drug users ``have it too easy''), the novel's effect is undermined by Baum's whining and off-putting first-person, present-tense narration. (May)