This tour of the 1950s Manhattan underworld begins with Anita, a good college girl with a bright but predictable future, who comes to Greenwich Village to find what else is out there.
Block’s New York is a noir wonderland, populated with junkies and beatsters (the dark predecessor to the modern hipster) spouting angular tough-guy dialogue, in which Anita plays curious, confused Alice. Down the rabbit hole, she meets Joe, an aimless loser, and his roommate, Shank, a violent drug dealer whose earnings provide them with a life of leisure. When psychopathic Shank murders a cop, however, they all go on the run toward an uncertain fate.
Block effortlessly immerses himself in the mind space of Joe and Shank, reporting their world of drugs, sex and disaffection with a matter-of-factness that hits hard, all the more convincing because Block never makes an overt effort to convince. A potboiler morality play at its finest, the novel doesn’t deliver much action until its last third, but the slow build of the first two will give readers the delicious (and all-too-rare) feeling that anything could happen.