The story of a relationship between an unnamed 17 year old girl and the President of the Orphans gang in New York, a relationship marred by murder, violence and drug abuse. The young narrator has heard all about McKay, the dangerous but gorgeous man who runs the Orphans. Every girl has heard of him. After engineering a meeting, she quickly finds herself ensconced in his life, but she never feels secure in the relationship because of his priority of loyalty to the gang. But when McKay starts to use heroin, she finds that she feels a greater measure of control. She is addicted to him, and he is addicted to the drug.
This is Alice Hoffman’s very first novel, published in 1977 when she was just 21, and studying at Stanford. In some ways it shows, the story is very simple, there is no backstory for any of the characters, there is only the now and their current time. The book feels really pleasantly of it’s time, the late 70’s, in it’s wording, it’s tendency to philosophise, it’s rambling way. It was criticised for this idiosyncratic style on publication, but I think it adds to, rather than takes from the story. It was felt that a girl that philosophical and articulate would never be foolish enough to shack up with a gang member, but I think Bonnie tagging along with Clyde is a great example of intelligent woman desiring brutal masculinity and danger.
I think the point is that she feels unsafe in on The Avenue as she calls it, in New York, and she feels safe with the most unafraid man she can find. He’s also quite charming, and teasingly almost available. I also think it captures quite well the downward spiral of the relationship, why he starts to use the drug and how her enabling him makes her feel closer. That’s not something easily understood.
All that said, I think I just enjoyed the 70’s-ness of it. It reminded me of b movies from the era, of the clothes, the waif dresses, the belief in the spiritual and in magic. Sure, it’s a little naive, a little flawed, but I think that works, because the protagonist is exactly those things too.
Read It If: It doesn’t have Hoffman’s usually signature use of Magic Realism, but it’s a cracking little read, foreshadowing the talent to come.