DIRTY LITTLE AVENGING ANGEL OR N’AWLINS YOUTH GONE WILD?
Dirty Little Angels
by Chris Tusa
Dirty Little Angels is a stark portrait of the challenges of modern adolescence, particularly in a city like New Orleans where violence can be part of the social fabric and wrong turns seem to far outnumber the straight and narrow. In a bold choice by first novelist, Chris Tusa, the narrative is written from the first person perspective of 16-year-old Hailey, who is not only trapped in that limbo between child and adult we call adolescence, but in between middle-class and working poor as her family’s economic foundation rapidly slips away. Neither of her self-involved parents are currently employed. Her mother, a nurse, has succumbed to depression after a miscarriage and has little energy left to care for her two surviving children. Her father is out of work and too proud to take an interview at Wal-Mart lined up by a neighbor, but instead chooses to focus his energy on playing pool and courting a waitress at a nearby Mexican restaurant who moonlights as a stripper.
In the absence of parental guidance, Hailey turns to a best friend whose narcissism and loose morals erode her self-esteem and lead her to questionable choices, and her brother who tries to look out for her but ultimately puts both of them in physical and spiritual peril through his friendship with Moses, an ex-con who masquerades as a preacher but whose swift and violent brand of administering the Lord’s judgment leads to the novel’s jarring conclusion. Although Chase tries to play the tough big brother, it is Hailey who ultimately faces up to the violent and corrupt ‘minister,’ forcing her to face her own Dirty Little Angels.
This novel weighs in at only 147 pages, making Hailey’s journey down the road to perdition swift and jolting. The one detour on this rapid road revolves around brief friendship Hailey forms with the husband of her father’s lover who is in the hospital dying of cancer. The narrator originally tracks him down to expose his wife’s duplicity and pry her away from her father, but Hailey finds she cannot reveal the painful truth to this gentle soul facing death so bravely. This man’s calm, courage, and compassion briefly fills the gaping void in Hailey’s life, but she soon returns to find his bed empty. It is a touching interlude in an otherwise bleak tale.
With its gritty language and brash imagery, this novel is not for the faint of heart. Tusa likes to play with language and challenge his readers, but if you’re willing to go along for the rocky ride you’ll be moved by a compelling portrait of teenage depression (the narrator feels as through cockroaches are scurrying around her head) and of innocence lost. Does Hailey truly succumb to moral erosion due to a lack of a positive social framework or is she merely a survivor making difficult but brave choices to save herself and her family? Tusa raises such questions that are meant to be argued late into the night at local bars and coffee shops as readers process the shocking ending and its implications for the state of our modern world.