David Bradley Mel Watkins - Essay

Mel Watkins

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Philadelphia's "South Street"] is one of the gutted bastions of the down-and-out, the hopeless, the poor, and of the predators who feed on them. In this exceptional first novel ["South Street"], David Bradley takes us on a guided tour. We are ushered behind the dingy facade of "burned-out boarded-up bashed-in storefronts" dotted with bars, liquor stores and transient hotels; a facade that we've all hurried past, probably with a twinge of disgust and a small dose of cold fear. More important, Mr. Bradley introduces us to the street people who thrive in these cramped spaces, and brings them vividly to life….

"South Street" is not simply another grim, naturalistic litany of the anguish of the downtrodden. Without blunting the pathos of this tale, Mr. Bradley has infused what could have been a standard story and stock characters with new vigor. Probing beneath the sociological stereotypes, he portrays his characters with a fullness that amplifies much of the lusty irony of ghetto life. His characters are trapped in their vermin-infested tenements but they are not overwhelmed…. It is Bradley's unerring depiction of the vitality that rears itself even within this despairing setting that distinguishes this novel.

Still, "South Street" has its flaws. Mr. Bradley's narratives on South Street and the surrounding geography are sometimes overextended and tiresome—like the loquacious drone of a facile tour guide delivering...

(The entire section is 485 words.)