Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book Review - Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa

Dirty Little Angels is a book that will not disappoint!  I read this slowly, didn't want to miss anything, not that you have to read it slow, its not a difficult read at all. 

Dirty Little AngelsHailey, the narrator. I wished that she was my daughter,  I would make everything better for her, she deserves a better life. Hailey needs to have friends her own age but she hangs out with her brother and his friends which leads her into trouble, causing her to make the wrong choices. Hailey is hoping that "God will perform a miracle and cure her whole family."
Her brother Cyrus is always in trouble with the law, he needed a daddy but his daddy was to busy drinking and gambling and his mother stays in bed all day, wallowing in self pity.
Their mother lost a baby and since then she hasn't gone back to work as a nurse. Their dad is jobless, drinks and gambles and because they have no money coming in Uncle Errols threatening to take the house.  Hailey finds out her daddy is fooling around with a stripper chick and decides to do something about it. Twists and turns, Cyrus making a wrong choice that affects his life and Hailey going off the deep end, you don't want to miss this one!

I don't want to give to much away, you really have to read the book!!

From Chris Tulsa's website:

Set in the slums of New Orleans, among clusters of crack houses and abandoned buildings, Dirty Little Angels is the story of sixteen year old Hailey Trosclair. When the Trosclair family suffers a string of financial hardships and a miscarriage, Hailey finds herself looking to God to save her family. When her prayers go unanswered, Hailey puts her faith in Moses Watkins, a failed preacher and ex-con. Fascinated by Moses’s lopsided view of religion, Hailey, and her brother Cyrus, begin spending time down at an abandoned bank that Moses plans to convert into a drive-through church. Gradually, though, Moses’s twisted religious beliefs become increasingly more violent, and Hailey and Cyrus soon find themselves trapped in a world of danger and fear from which there may be no escape.

From Chapter 1:

The baby was a white fist of flesh. Mama had placed the ultrasound photo atop her dresser in a sterling silver frame. That night, when the pain bent her over in the kitchen, I imagined that same white fist punching her insides black-and-blue. When Daddy called from the hospital to tell us she’d lost the baby, my brother Cyrus said I shouldn’t worry. He said the baby didn’t feel any pain, that at nine weeks it wasn’t anything but a ball of meat squirming in Mama’s stomach. He said it hadn’t even sprouted arms or legs yet, that it still had a fish brain and gills growing in its neck.
That night, I dreamed of Mama’s flesh creaking as the doctor unstitched the trapdoor in her stomach. Her insides looked like crushed red velvet, and the baby’s skin was blue as a robin’s egg. I imagined the stitches in her stomach, tiny black mouths puckering between the folds of her belly. I remember wondering where the baby’s cries had gone, if they had stayed inside Mama’s body after the doctors stitched the trapdoor shut.
Nearly six months later, I was sitting in front of Ben Franklin High in my yellow flower dress, studying for my Science test, thinking about the baby again, my fingers tracing the pink gills of a fish in my Biology textbook. As I stared at the fish, I heard the crackle of gravel and what sounded like the faint moan of a car horn. I looked over my shoulder and saw a rusted blue Hyundai with a dented fender idling in the parking lot behind me. It was my brother Cyrus.
As I walked up to the car, Cyrus revved the engine. The inside of the car smelled like bug spray. Ever since I could remember, Cyrus had always been a hypochondriac. He was always reading some medical encyclopedia, convinced he had suddenly come down with some dreadful disease. A few weeks back, he’d seen some story on the news about the West Nile Virus, and ever since then, he’d been spraying himself down with bug spray before he left the house.
As I climbed into the passenger’s side, he turned up the car stereo, and Mystikal’s “Tarantula” crackled through the speakers. I closed the door and buckled my seat belt, and Cyrus rammed the car into drive and spun the tires, until a cloud of brown dust swallowed the car.
Cyrus was wearing a New Orleans Hornets jersey and a black Reebok skullcap. He had a thin line of brown hair for a beard, and he’d shaved little lines into his eyebrows. Two years ago, Daddy had helped him buy the old Hyundai from a junk yard in Independence. He’d spent the whole summer souping it up. It had red racing stripes, bald, rotten tires and silver spoked rims. He’d covered the seats with leopard-skin seat covers, and he had a mini eight ball hanging from the rearview mirror.
“You going to Verma’s?” Cyrus asked.
“Yep. Why didn’t Daddy pick me up?”
“He’s down at the pool hall.” Cyrus took a drag and blew the smoke out his nose. “Man stays down there much longer, they gonna start charging him rent.”
Since before I was born, Daddy had worked down at the meat packing company on Julia Street as an Assistant Supervisor, that is, until last December, when he’d gotten laid off. For the last few months, he’d been collecting unemployment checks. He spent most days down at Spider’s Pool Hall nursing cocktails or at the Fair Grounds betting on horses.
“Hey, can you give me a ride to Meridian’s tomorrow?”
“Not tomorrow.” Cyrus took two quick drags and flicked the Lucky Strike into the wind. “Gotta go downtown and meet my parole officer.”
Cyrus had been arrested three times, once for stealing chrome rims from a warehouse in New Orleans East, and another time for snatching car stereos from the parking lot of the gun show. This time, he’d got caught selling a quarter bag of weed to a boy over on Almonaster Street. Mama agreed to bail him out, but only if he promised to join the church and get saved. Mama said Cyrus’ soul was blacker than mud, and that only the preacher’s water could raise up his dead soul. Cyrus agreed to get saved. Mama and I even went down to the church that day to watch Brother Icks dunk Cyrus in the baptismal pool. When I asked Cyrus what it was like, he said it felt more like being drowned than being saved. Mama was convinced that the water had cleansed his soul, though, because two days after he was saved, Cyrus went down to Ink Dreams and had a line from Revelation tattooed on his bicep that said: “He Shall Rule them with an Iron Rod.” Wherever he went, he kept a pair of brass knuckles in his back pocket. On Saturday nights, he and his friends rode up and down Paris Road in their rickety cars looking for boys to fight. Other nights, they hung out in an old abandoned bank down on Elysian Fields.
“So,” I asked Cyrus. “When are you going to take me down to the old bank with you?”
“You’re too young to go down there.”
I grabbed my lipstick from my purse and pulled down the visor mirror. “Meridian wants to go too,” I told him, puckering in the mirror as I spoke. “She thinks you’re cute.” I knew Cyrus had the hots for Meridian. He always said she had hips that could make a glass eye wink. I’d even found a picture of Meridian in his wallet one time. He’d actually cut out her picture from the Ben Franklin Yearbook and stuck it in his wallet like some kind of creepy stalker or something.
Cyrus grinned as he pulled into the parking lot of Verma’s apartment complex. “I’ll think about it.” He put the Hyundai in neutral, and I climbed out. As he pulled off, I noticed Verma in her pink robe, in the courtyard of the apartment complex, sitting in a lawn chair near the edge of a green swimming pool, smiling. She was a skinny black woman with mossy gray hair, and she had a gold tooth with a star etched into it. Glaucoma had swallowed her right eye in a filmy white shroud, and diabetes had eaten up the veins in her feet. Mama and Daddy had known Verma for years, and I’d known her practically all my life. Since before I was born, she’d lived in the same ratty apartment complex on Pelopidas Street. Most days, after school, I went to her apartment to help her wash clothes, dishes, whatever she needed really. Every day, before I left, she gave me a five dollar bill that smelled like perfume.
“Where’s that brother of yours off to?”
“I think he’s going back to work,” I said. “Then down to The Lakefront for the races.”
“Has the devil burrowed into that boy’s skull?” Verma wheezed, a glass of Pepsi sweating at her feet. “If he don’t watch it, he’s gonna end up like that boy with the paper bag face.”
Verma had worked for a woman whose son’s Dodge Neon fishtailed through a rice field while racing down at the Lakefront. She said the gas tank on the Neon had burst into flames, that the boy had been swallowed in an orange ring of fire, and that after the accident, when she visited the boy in the hospital, his face looked like a brown paper bag with two holes ripped out for eyes.
“Where’s your momma? Over at the house?”
“Don’t know. Think she’s cooking dinner.” Mama wasn’t cooking dinner. She hadn’t cooked dinner one time since the miscarriage. Daddy said she was dead to the world.
“What about your daddy?”
“He’s down at the pool hall.”
“Already?” she asked, pressing the glass of Pepsi against her forehead as she spoke. “He come home last night?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I’m gonna have to have a talk with that father of yours again,” she said, rattling the glass of Pepsi. “Somebody needs to light a fire under that man’s ass. He’s been outta work for almost three months now.”
“I think it’s been more like five.”
Verma reached into her robe pocket for a Chesterfield. As she lit the cigarette, I motioned to her for a drag. “What you want a cigarette for, Hailey? So you can get hooked like me? You too young to start killing yourself.”
I motioned to her again and she handed the Chesterfield to me. “All right, dammit. Just one quick one though. And make it fast. Your momma and daddy gonna skin me alive they see me sneaking you drags.”
I sucked the smoke deep into my lungs.
“Your Uncle Errol been by the house again?” Verma asked.
“Yep.” I handed the Chesterfield back to her. “He came by Thursday.”
“Old rotten-toothed slug.” Verma scratched an itch deep in the clump of her grey hair, took a drag off her Chesterfield. “He still on your daddy to sell the house, huh?” She flicked her ashes into a folded paper napkin in her lap and took another drag. The tip of the cigarette glowed bright orange. “Well, don’t go worrying yourself over it, Hailey. That sneaky-ass uncle of yours ain’t gonna get his grimy hands on your momma and daddy’s house. Not if I got anything to say about it.”
A few years back, Verma had gotten an insurance settlement from Sears after she’d slipped and broken her hip while shopping there. Daddy said she had more money than the Pope, and he couldn’t believe that with all the money she had, she still lived in the same ratty apartment complex. Mama said it was because Verma actually saved her money, rather than living off credit cards and pay-day loans like most people he knew. Daddy even suggested that we borrow money from Verma, but Mama wouldn’t have it.
“I got a friend,” Verma said, “down at Wal-Mart. Says he can get your daddy a job.”
“Really? Doing what?”
“It ain’t nothing special. Just a cashier job. But it’ll tide y’all over. ‘Till your daddy can get back on his feet.”
“I hate to say it, but I doubt he’ll go. He had two job interviews last month, and he didn’t show up for either one.”
“I’ll dress your daddy up and haul his ass down there myself if I have to.”
Verma took another drag off her cigarette and snuffed it out with her green slipper. I helped her out of the lawn chair and we went inside.
For the rest of the afternoon, I helped her stuff artichokes and peel shrimp for stew. Before I left, she gave me a five dollar bill. The word “five” had been colored green with a ball point pen, and Lincoln’s eyes had been cut out.....


About the author Chris Tusa from his website:

Chris Tusa was born and raised in New Orleans. He holds a B.A. in English, an M.A in English, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Florida. Aside from teaching in the English Department at LSU, he also acts as Managing Editor for Poetry Southeast. With the help of a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, he was able to complete his first chapbook of poetry, Inventing an End. His debut collection of poems, Haunted Bones, was published by Louisiana Literature Press in 2006. His work has appeared in Connecticut Review, Texas Review, Prairie Schooner, The New Delta Review, South Dakota Review, Southeast Review, Passages North, Spoon River, New York Quarterly, Louisiana Literature, Tar River, StorySouth, and others. He has studied under a number of notable writers, including Tim Gautreaux, Sidney Wade, and Debora Gregor. His debut novel, Dirty Little Angels, was published by The University of West Alabama in March of 2009. He is currently working on his second novel, In the Valley of Falling Stars, a dark tragicomedy featuring a middle-aged woman who’s convinced she’s been chosen by God to give birth to Jesus Christ.
Tusa’s stories are, in effect, Southern-fried Greek tragedies. In his work, the backwoods Southern Gothicism of Faulkner and O’Connor intersects with a more contemporary, more urban depiction of the South. Typical themes include mental illness as well as the ways in which the contemporary, celebrity-driven American culture has managed to alter the landscape of the traditional Christ-haunted South. 

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Teenage Bride said...

sounds like a good read. I like boko sthat really make you feel connected to the characters.

LindyLouMac said...

Hi, I just called by to thank you for visiting and commenting on my latest review. I thought we were already mutual followers but it seems not!!! I have rectified this and am your latest follower. I know we are FB friends but that is different :)

I have never heard of Chris Tusa or Dirty Little Angels, which is a problem I often come across when reading blogs from the USA :(

Anna said...

I though this was a good book. I felt really bad for Hailey, too. That's one messed up family. I thought the ending opened up a whole new can of worms and I was left wanting to know more about what happens to her.

Anonymous said...

This looks good. Great review!

Alice Teh said...

Hi Natalie! I read this last year and thought it's a good book. Thanks for the review!