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WEST WORDS; Coming of Age on the Margins; AMERICAN SON, A Novel, By Brian Ascalon Roley, W.W. Norton: 256 pp., $13 paper CHICKEN: Self- Portrait of a Young Man for Rent, By David Henry Sterry, ReganBooks/ HarperCollins: 248 pp., $24.95
[Home Edition]
Los Angeles Times - Los Angeles, Calif.
Subjects: Novels; Nonfiction; Autobiographies; Books-titles -- -Multiple review
Author: Kirsch, Jonathan
Date: Feb 3, 2002
Start Page: R.2
Section: Book Review; Features Desk
Abstract (Document Summary)

"American Son" is [Brian Ascalon Roley]'s debut as a novelist, but the book bears none of the tool marks of first fiction. Roley writes with assurance, grace and insight, and he plays expertly with our perceptions and expectations: His tale ends in a shocking incident of rough justice that is horrifying and yet somehow satisfying and even exhilarating. And Roley is one young writer with something important to say: He has fused a coming-of-age story with a variant on the American immigrant saga, and the result is both explosive and illuminating.

[David Henry Sterry]'s memoir is often overwrought and always overwritten, but he is dealing in a commodity that is sure to command the reader's attention: the dirty little secrets about what men and women do behind closed doors. Even his clients want to hear exactly what he does with other women: "Spare no detail," his very first client instructs him, "and use all the naughty words." Sterry follows the same advice here.

Most of Sterry's experiences are played for laughs or thrills or both, but one encounter is so grotesque, so pathetic and so heartbreaking--a bereaved woman trying desperately to conjure up both a dead husband and a dead son--that it sends Sterry into a downward spiral. "What a couple of funked-up ducks we are," he cries in despair, "this ex-mom slash ex-wife and I, trying to get some love in the worst way." By then, Sterry is ready to get out, and so are we.

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