(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Spidertown is a Bildungsroman that recounts the intellectual and spiritual growth of a teenaged boy. Sixteen-year-old Miguel falls in love with Cristalena, a preacher’s daughter who despises crack cocaine and the criminals who are terrorizing her neighborhood. Because he works for Spider, the local crack czar, Miguel fears that Cristalena will reject him. Consequently, he lies about his work, and his guilt and shame propel him on a journey of self-discovery and redemption.

As the novel opens, Miguel and his roommate, Firebug, are drinking and talking in their nearly unfurnished apartment. Firebug, a professional arsonist, invites Miguel to a “wienie roast,” which is a euphemism for the torching of a building. Though he agrees to escort Firebug’s girlfriend, Amelia, Miguel would prefer to stay home. He no longer enjoys the commotion of the crowd, the fire engines, and the flames. His relationship with Cristalena has shown him the perversion and ugliness of his world.

At the fire, Miguel and Amelia sit in his car and discuss his growing disenchantment with the drug culture. Amelia says that he has too much heart to be a criminal, confesses that she has fallen in love with him, and tries to explain her relationship with Firebug, who is incapable of love.

The next day, as he makes his usual deliveries for Spider, Miguel stops several times to call Cristalena, but she is unavailable to speak with him. Angry and dejected, he starts drinking heavily and gets behind in his deliveries. His tardiness almost costs the lives of several drug dealers, who have to dodge bullets to get to his car.

In the morning, Miguel visits Cristalena at the boutique where she works and learns the reason for her evasion. She has not yet told her parents about him, and they are very strict and watch her closely. Miguel proposes to Cristalena, and they make plans to celebrate her birthday in bed at his apartment.

At Spider’s request, Miguel delivers ten thousand dollars to a police car parked across the street from his apartment...

(The entire section is 852 words.)