Kin Platt Patty Campbell - Essay

Patty Campbell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Kin Platt, like J. D. Salinger a generation ago, has evidently been doing a lot of listening [to young adults], because The Doomsday Gang has the most accurate reproduction of the speech of urban male teenagers since Catcher in the Rye. Not only do four-letter words appear on every page, they appear in nearly every sentence, and in their variant forms they substitute for almost any noun, verb, or adjective. The effect, as in the original, is numbing and very effectively conveys the flatness and boredom of the limited lives of street kids. In this reviewer's opinion the language of The Doomsday Gang is completely justified by the subject; this is the way these hostile, abandoned kids would talk, and anyone who prefers that they say "Goodness gracious!" instead of "What the fuck!" is opting for dishonesty. (p. 340)

The real selection problem with The Doomsday Gang stems not from the language, but from Platt's unintentional cultural slur and from the undeniable fact that the book makes violence sound like fun. The climactic scene is a rumble in which the massed Chicano gangs close in on a bunch of naive and uppity kids from the suburbs. This is no innocent Hollywood slugfest, but a bloody massacre with broken bottles and tire chains, where skulls are fractured and guts are spilled. Nevertheless, we find ourselves drawn into the fierce joy of combat, and we cheer when the Doomsday Gang roars into the battle on stolen motorcycles.

Later, when the survivors lie talking it over in the hospital, we realize that none is going to survive much longer—their violent lives in the streets are going to be very short. Yet somehow the shortness of these lives seems a fair trade for the intensity and excitement of unleashed violence. (pp. 340-41)

It may not be moral to say that violence is fun, but it may be honest. The basic question seems to be this: Have we the right to demand that books for young adults make a moral statement? (p. 341)

Patty Campbell, in her review of "The Doomsday Gang," in Wilson Library Bulletin (copyright © 1978 by the H. W. Wilson Company), Vol. 53, No. 4, December, 1978, pp. 340-41.