Chulito – Charles Rice-Gonzalez (Magnus Books)

Buy it now from TLA.com

The first time I met Charles Rice-Gonzalez, we were being
held hostage by TSA at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans.
Funny how that can draw people together. A few years later, my fellow passenger-in-crime
has finished his debut novel, Chulito, a book guaranteed to help you
while away even the most harrowing airport experience.

Teenaged Chulito never gets far from the Hunts Point corner
where he grew up in Brooklyn and never sees much of anyone except his fellow
‘hood rats Looney Tunes and Chin-Chin or his boss, the drug-dealing Kamikaze.
But he remembers Carlos, the boy he fell in love with, even though he’s loathe
to admit it. Carlos escaped to college, but when he comes back for the summer,
Chulito is forced to re-examine his feelings, his life and his future.

Simply put, Chulito is an amazing first novel full of
fire and grace, with a sense of place that will have you smelling all the
streetcorner grime the Bronx has to offer. Chulito and Carlos are wonderfully
well-defined, and their “c’mere/get away” relationship is as explosive as it is
nourishing for both of them. The anguish Chulito feels at having to decide
between his love and his friends is heartbreakingly palpable.

But the relationship between Chulito and his boss, gangsta
Kamikaze is nearly as interesting. Kaz also loves Chulito, though not in the
homosexual sense. Or does he? There is a subtle homoeroticism running through
what is ostensibly a bond of friendship, but Kaz is so unpredictable that he
keeps Chulito guessing. Will Kaz understand that he has to quit the “game” to
keep Carlos? Will he accept him as an out gay man? Or will he pop a cap in his
ass? Rice-Gonzalez plays all this out in the Bronx’s humid closeness, with only
occasional outings to the freer atmosphere of the East Village where Carlos’
other friends reside.

His prose is lean and concise, with just enough slang for
flavor. And his eye for detail is incredible. One marvelous example of this is
that Chulito cannot dance. Refuses to. And when he’s forced to, he just stands
in one spot and bobs his head, bound by his own restraints—until he comes out,
that is. That leads to a moving ending that has Chulito finally letting go,
dancing his heart out on a rooftop in a moment that will bring tears to your
eyes. Touches like that (and that’s only an obvious one) really make this book
sing.

Charles Rice-Gonzalez has crafted a passionate story of
love, heartbreak, defeat and triumph that is as personal as it is universal.

I’m very glad TSA let him (and me) go.

Review by Jerry Wheeler

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