October 05, 2006


Rush Hour IV: Reckless. Edited by Michael Cart. Delacorte Press. $10.95.

Playing It Cool. By Joaquin Dorfman. Random House. $15.95.

Prizefighter en Mi Casa. By e. E. Charlton-Trujillo. Delacorte Press. $15.95.

     First-time authors, contemporary authors, new voices – whatever you call them, they all seem to be preoccupied, in one way or another, with the importance (and the consequences) of being “cool.”  The word is a longtime slang term – there’s a song with the single-word title in West Side Story, and it dates back well before that – but the ways of being cool continue to change.  The consequences often don’t.

     Being reckless is often part of being cool, at least for certain people of a certain age.  The fourth installment of Rush Hour, the sort-of-book, sort-of-magazine featuring contemporary writers and artists, uses the word Reckless as a centering point, just as the first three volumes used Sin, Bad Boys and Face.  Like the earlier volumes, the Reckless anthology is very much a mixed bag, with work of widely varying interest and quality.  Terry Quinn offers an intense urban-experience poem called “See Ya,” about a woman watching “as a neighbor she’s yet to meet/ becomes a corpse. Her first.”  Benjamin M. Foster’s autobiographical “Concept” is about staying in a “therapeutic community” with other “fucked-up teenage kids who cut school and smoked a lot of pot.”  Kirsten Smith’s “Three Poems about Bobby” deals with reckless love choices: “You open the car door for me/ and I want some of your bad boy/ to rub off on my hands like newsprint.”  Tommy Kovac’s strange comic-strip-style story, “The New Girl,” is about a “date with the dead.”  Especially interesting is an E-mail interview with Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, who suggests that writing itself is a reckless act – a very different viewpoint from the others in this collection.

     Playing It Cool and Prizefighter en Mi Casa are debut novels – in the case of the former, actually a “solo debut” novel.  Both are about teenage and young-adult recklessness, and the cost of choices made and choices unchosen.  Joaquin Dorfman, coauthor of Burning City, here offers a book about a “fixer,” someone who solves intractable problems in subtle ways (for instance, getting someone a date or stopping a suicide).  Sebastian Montero has a way with people: “’Have a giraffe,’ I offered, extending the stuffed animal.  Matilda let her lips curl up and laughed, braces and all. She took the giraffe from me and held it close.  Rocking just a little bit, the timeless reassurance of all things soft and fuzzy.”  But in a new city, where he does not fully understand the quid pro quo, Montero meets a fixer who is more powerful than he – and may be able to help him, if the price is right.

     The author of Prizefighter en Mi Casa spells her name “e. E. Charlton-Trujillo,” and if that’s not a bid for coolness, what is?  Chula Sanchez, heroine of the novel, wants both to be cool and to be healthy: she has had seizures since a car accident that also left her father paralyzed.  The family is poor, and the father hopes to do something about that by sending to Mexico for a prizefighter named El Jefe, who can win local boxing matches.  But the matches are illegal, the police show up, Chula’s brother helps her get away but is himself caught, and then the apparently steel-hard El Jefe shows an unexpected emotional side that only confuses matters further.  Neither Dorfman’s novel nor Charlton-Trujillo’s is entirely effective or entirely believable, despite interesting picaresque qualities in one and a kind of hard-bitten determination in the other.  The books are intriguing rather than compelling; and if they are not really “cool,” they do both have touching moments that, in the long run, will count for more.

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