Picks and Pans Review: Golden States

updated 05/07/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/07/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Michael Cunningham

Both these first novels use 12-year-old boys as their central characters. Edisto (Farrar Straus Giroux, $11.95) is set in the Deep South, on the edge of the Atlantic; Golden States (Crown, $12.95) is in Southern California. The hero of Edisto lives with his mother, a college teacher, in an isolated beach house with a shack out back. He calls her Doctor. He calls his father, a lawyer who has custody of him every other weekend, the Progenitor. (The boy has a fantastic vocabulary because his mother expects him to be a writer.) A burly process server appears one day and is invited to move into the shack. The boy finds the man's coolness admirable, and they fish for mullets together. Edisto reflects a weird world, one of literary precocity mixed with an earthy view of life and sex. It is also wonderfully funny, with an exotic dash of Flannery O'Connor, an echo of Tennessee Williams, a faint whiff of Truman Capote and a lot of originality. Powell, 32, has worked as a roofer in Houston for the last seven years. The hero of Golden States lives with his mother and younger sister in Los Angeles County, where three weeks of rain have caused a sense of dislocation. The boy's half sister, 23, arrives home determined not to marry the lawyer with whom she has been living in San Francisco. The older sister lets the boy smoke her marijuana. This is a sensitive boy confronted with problems not even adults can handle easily. Cunningham does a fine job of portraying not only his youthful hero but also his mother, a divorced woman with a dull job who has to cope with a frightening past. This is a far more conventional novel than Edisto. A pack of coyotes that grows increasingly fearless is the book's only out-of-the-ordinary touch. But Cunningham, who grew up in Southern California and now lives in New York, provides an original glimpse into California life that has the ring of authenticity. His fragile story could have been spoiled by melodrama; instead, the ending is exactly right.

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