(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

It has been less than a year since Abraham Rodriguez, Jr., made his literary debut with the publication of THE BOY WITHOUT A FLAG: TALES OF THE SOUTH BRONX (1992), a modest collection of seven loosely linked, place-related stories praised for Rodriguez’s gritty, graffiti-colored depiction of the South Bronx. Now, in SPIDERTOWN, his first novel, Rodriguez returns to the South Bronx that he knows so well to tell the story of Miguel, a sixteen-and-a-half-year-old Puerto Rican drug-runner who is trying to make sense out of the chaos that has become his everyday life, a boy lured into a spider’s web of crack-cocaine and crime by the promise of fast cars and cheap, meaningless sex: a freedom that can only be bought on the South Bronx streets with money that has been wrung with blood. Rodriguez chronicles the events that lead up to Miguel’s personal transformation and eventual departure from this world. Miguel is another boy without a flag, torn between two worlds, into neither of which does he fit.

The world of SPIDERTOWN—the world of Rodriguez’s South Bronx—is a mecca of urban menace. Rodriguez’s sense of place is unflinchingly precise, his prose peppered by voices rooted in the rapid-fire clamor of the streets. Much of the dramatic action unfolds through a dialect-driven dialogue told in aquick-tongued vernacular that resists mimicking itself. It would be a vast understatement to say, simply, that the dialogue in this novel rings true. At the very least, the voices of Rodriguez’s characters rise up off the page like words to a song. The music of this world finds expression in the poetry of the alleyways and streets, where jacked-up cars...

(The entire section is 680 words.)