Set in the projects of Los Angeles, California, Edgewater Angels chronicles the adolescence of Sunny Toomer, a streetwise young man endlessly sandwiched between the right and wrong thing to do. In a neighborhood where an absentminded stare might be mistaken for a silent challenge for turf, and asking someone if they have a problem may cost you your life, Sunny ekes out survival amidst an incomparable cast of characters, including a husbandless mother, violence-prone uncles, and a cadre of strangely endearing men either headed for jail or out on parole. Written in original riff-like prose, Meallet gives us a unique story that is serious yet playful, daring in aim, and absolutely captivating.
Toomer, the precocious narrator of this likable first novel, is a young adolescent in the San Pedro section of L.A., where gang violence is a given, absentee fathers are preferred to the live-in kind who get "so so mad" and futures are bleak. The sense of community is strong, however; as the novel begins, gang warfare has ceased so the neighborhood can present a unified front to the LAPD, or "rollers." Toomer narrates in the first-person plural, speaking for a generation of ghetto kids who have cobbled together a community based on something other than violence. Meallet, who grew up in San Pedro, reproduces the infectious slang of southern California youth, characterized by the invention of amalgamated adjectives: "a you-guys-are-sorry gigglesound." His prose is swift-paced and conversational, but the series of disjunctive subplots the wonder of a first car, forays into petty crime, the revelation of sexual secrets by a friend's father, a fantastical narrative about Toomer's own missing father disrupt the arc of the narrative, making this feel like a series of short stories forced into novel form. The book is a portrait of the artist as a young thug, and despite Toomer's communal voice, the escape from ghetto life (implied and made true by Meallet's own success) appears to be an individual one, based on Toomer's clandestine interest in classical music and secret forays to the local library. Nothing detracts from the punch of the ending, in which Toomer and his buddies give an anonymous homeless man a funeral and help a wounded woman give birth, acts of kindness giving truth to the anonymous man's dying words: "How wonderful you've become... like angels." Agent, Leigh Feldman. (On sale, July 17)
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 12, 2002
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Excerpt from Edgewater Angels by Sandro Meallet
Sometimes we fished and crabbed behind the Maritime Museum or from the concrete pier next to the Catalina Terminal underneath the San Pedro side of the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Sometimes we silently borrowed a rowboat from the tugboat docks and paddled to Terminal Island across the harbor just in front of us and hid the rowboat under an unbusy wharf, then strolled over to Berth 300 with droplines, bait knives, and gotta-have donuts all in one to two buckets. Sometimes as an extra we got to watch the big gray pelicans just off the edge of Berth 300 headfirst themselves into the wavy seawater with the small trailer birds hot on their tails hoping to snatch and scoop away any overflow from the huge bills. And sometimes as we fished and watched the pelicans dive we tripped that Berth 300 was next to the federal penitentiary where rich businessmen spent their caught days. It was also where the gangster Al Capone from Chicago was prisoned many many years ago.
But mostly we headed to the Pink Building over by Deadman's Slip and back on the San Pedro side because the fish there bit hungry and came in spread-out schools. Often the fishschools jumped greedy from the water for the baited ends of our lowering droplines as if they couldn't wait for the frying pan. And always at each spot Tom-Su sat himself down alone with his dropline and stared into the water as he rocked back and forth.
Besides Tom-Su tagging along, the summer was a typical one for us. We fished and crabbed for most of each day and then headed to the San Pedro fishmarket. We sold our catch to locals before they got into the market--mostly Slavs and Italians who usually bought up everything--and split up the money between us. Whenever we couldn't sell the catch, it went to the one whose family needed it the most.
Tom-Su spoke very little English and understood even less. He was new from Korea and had a special way of treating caught fish that wiggled at the end of his dropline. We'd never seen anything like it.
"Tom-Su," one of us once said, "tell us the truth. Why do you bite the heads off of fish--while they're still alive!"
"Dead already." And that's all he said with a grin.
Tom-Su had bucked teeth and often drooled as if his mouth and jaw had been forever dentistnumbed. He always wore suspenders with his jeans, which were too high and tight around his waist. But we didn't know how to explain to him that it was goofy not only to have his pants flooding so hard, but to also be putting the visegrip on one's nuts. Me and the fellas wondered on and off just how we could make Tom-Su understand that down the line he wasn't gonna be a daddy, disrespecting his jewels the way he did. To top it off, Tom-Su sported a rope instead of a belt, definitely nailing down the supersorry look.
"Tom-Su," one of us once said, "pull your pants down a little so you don't hurt yourself!"
"You welcome." And that's all he said with a grin.
He was goofy in other ways, too. His baseball cap didn't fit his misshapen head; he moved as if he had rubber for bones; his skin was like a vanilla lampshade; and he would unexpectedly look at you with these cannibal-hungry eyes, complete with underbags and socketsinkage.
"Tom-Su," one of us once said to him, "what are you looking at?"
"That's good." And that's all he said with a grin.
The drool and cannibal eyes made some of us think of his food intake. And if Tom-Su was hungry we couldn't blame him. His diet was out there like Pluto. In his house once with his father not at home, we opened the fridge to see it packed wall-to-wall with seaweed. Green ocean plant in jars, in plastic bags, in boxes and open on the shelves, as if it were growing on vines. It gave the fridge a smell of musty freon. Hell, my teeth might've bucked on me too with nothing but seaweed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
"Tom-Su," one of us said to him in his kitchen, "is this all you eat?"
"Pretty good." And that's all he said with a grin as he opened up a cupboard to show us a year's supply of the stuff.
A seaweed breakfast? Know what I'm saying? Out there.
So when Tom-Su got around the live-and-kicking-for-life fish--and I mean meat and not some ocean plants--well, he got very involved with the catch the way none of us would, or could, or maybe even should. Early on, though, I guess we mainly thought his fish head biting a hobby within a hobby or maybe a creepy-gross natural ability--one you wouldn't want to be born with yourself.
But Tom-Su was cool with us because he carried our buckets wherever we headed along the waterfront and because he eventually depended on us--though none of us knew how much at the time. Wherever we went, he went, tagging along in his own speechless way, yessing his head, drifting off elsewhere, but always ready to bust out that buckedtooth grin.