"Dodgers" by Bill Beverly

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From ancient epics to acknowledged Great American Novels, narrative artists have used physical travel as a metaphor for the inward journey of protagonists; one could cite a thousand examples and just scratch the surface. During these treks the character comes to know herself or himself, and these insights, combined with the reader’s own, show the narrative off, burnishing it with its highest artistic achievements.  In Dodgers Bill Beverly manages a stunningly effective and inevitable transformation for his hero Easton, a teenage gang banger nicknamed “East.” It is fraught with danger, full of emotional intrigue, and compulsively readable: superb.

Fin, at the top of the drug-dealing hierarchy in which East is a foot soldier, sends him and three other gang members on a car trip from L.A. to Wisconsin on gang business of a treacherous and dangerous kind.  As the boys, the oldest of whom is 21, and the youngest13, make their way, there is first a falling-out that makes East, at 15, a co-leader. After they carry out their mission, and rather overdo it in the process, the group finally splinters and East finds himself out on the lam alone.

Mr. Beverly tells these events in gritty and realistic detail. The language he places into his troop’s mouths is pitch-perfect, as are their motivations from beginning to end. In East, he renders a masterful portrait, a young man not as rabid nor filled with blood lust as his homeys. His native intelligence and industry stand him eventually in good stead, after he finds anonymous work (along with acceptance and respect) in America’s hinterlands. We root like crazy for East, watch as his talent and hard work raise him up a little; we worry along with him about whether his past will finally betray him.

I promise: perfect pacing; outstanding, memorable dialog; vivid characterization; sympathetic portraiture; very effective descriptions of place; and a lovely, reverberant treatment where plot serves theme, and author leaves the reader in wonder. Unreservedly, I recommend this. It melds the loftiest of purposes with the grittiest and meanest of situations. Take it up!

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