The Flowers [NOOK Book]

Overview


Sonny Bravo is a tender, unusually smart fifteen-year-old who is living with his vivacious mother in a large city where intense prejudice is not just white against black, but also brown. When Sonny’s mother, Silvia, suddenly marries an Okie building contractor named Cloyd Longpre, they are uprooted to a small apartment building, Los Flores. As Sonny sweeps its sidewalks, he meets his neighbors and becomes ensnared in their lives: Cindy, an eighteen-year-old druggie who is married and bored; Nica, a cloistered ...
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The Flowers

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Overview


Sonny Bravo is a tender, unusually smart fifteen-year-old who is living with his vivacious mother in a large city where intense prejudice is not just white against black, but also brown. When Sonny’s mother, Silvia, suddenly marries an Okie building contractor named Cloyd Longpre, they are uprooted to a small apartment building, Los Flores. As Sonny sweeps its sidewalks, he meets his neighbors and becomes ensnared in their lives: Cindy, an eighteen-year-old druggie who is married and bored; Nica, a cloistered Mexican girl who cares for her infant brother but who is never allowed to leave their unit. The other tenants range from Pink, an albino black man who sells old cars in front of the building, to Bud, a muscled-up construction worker who hates blacks and Mexicans, even while he’s married to a Mexican-American woman. Dagoberto Gilb, in arguably his most powerful work yet, has written an inspiring novel about hate, pain, anger, and love that transcends age, race, and time. Gilb’s novel displays the fearlessness and wit that have helped make him one of this country’s most authentic and original voices.
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Editorial Reviews

Marcela Valdes
Gilb, whose 1993 short story collection The Magic of Blood won a PEN/Hemingway Award and whose 2003 essay collection Gritos was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, has crafted a psychologically complex novel that captures both a young son's resentment and a mature man's understanding.
—The Washington Post
Sarah Fay
The prospect of reading a novel narrated in run-on sentences, fragments, Spanish phrases and street slang might seem daunting, but not when you meet the precocious, Holden Caulfieldesque narrator of Dagoberto Gilb's coming-of-age novel…Sonny's voice is mesmeric. It keeps us reading—until Gilb allows him to come to the realization that a truly wise man acknowledges how little he understands.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Gilb's new novel is hilarious and thought provoking as it traces the bigotry and alienation among the wildly varied cast of characters living in and around the Los Flores apartment building in an unnamed city that may remind some readers of Los Angeles. When narrator Sonny Bravo's mother, Silvia, marries Cloyd Longpre, the tightfisted landlord of Los Flores, Sonny is thrust into a racially charged environment on the brink of exploding. Sonny is an isolated teen whose only friends are the tragically dorky duo, Mike and Joe, from his new high school. He finds comfort in the menial chores Cloyd assigns him, as they give him a chance to escape the stifling apartment and to interact with the other residents, including Mr. Pinkston (known as "Pink"), an African-American albino who sells vintage cars to black customers in front of the building; Cindy, a broke and married teenage dropout looking for some fun; and Nica, a teen who is locked inside her apartment all day taking care of her brother. Racial tension boils over in the world outside Los Flores as Sonny navigates Cindy's advances and falls for Nica. Gilb (Gritos; Woodcuts of Women) offers sharp commentary via his quick-witted narrator, and the reader feels Sonny's disaffection as his world dissolves into chaos. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

This raw narrative about the life of the teenaged Sonny is especially intriguing because of its gritty authenticity. Gilb (Gritos) conveys a realness lacking in more conventional novels by using a mix of Spanish and English to show how Sonny speaks and thinks and by allowing the plot to skip along in relation to Sonny's tangled thoughts. Sonny's Mexican American mom has married a narrow-minded white man named Cloyd, whom Sonny dislikes. He and his mom have moved into an apartment building Cloyd owns called Los Flores, where Sonny makes friends, falls in love, loses his virginity, and fends for himself. Sonny's perspective is presented with a clarity that has an almost Brechtian effect; readers will identify with him, but the jagged style of the narration will keep them at a remove. As in life, Sonny's story lacks a tidy resolution; though he helps someone else find freedom, his own story remains unfinished. Recommended for large public and academic libraries.[See Prepub Alert, LJ10/15/07.]
—Henry Bankhead

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555848224
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/17/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author


Dagoberto Gilb is the author of Gritos, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Woodcuts of Women, The Magic of Blood, for which he won the PEN/Hemingway, and The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña, and is editor of the 2006 anthology Hecho en Tejas: An Anthology of Texas Mexican Literature. His essays and fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, and The Best American Essays. Dagoberto Gilb's work has been translated into French, Italian, Japanese, German, Spanish, and Dutch. Anthologized in many literary and college composition textbooks, his fiction and nonfiction is taught in Chicano, Latino, American, and Western literature courses. His work has been honored by national prizes, such as the Whiting Writers' Award and the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and recognized through the El Paso Writer's Hall of Fame, the Library of Congress Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape, and the Texas Book Festival's Bookend Award for Ongoing Literary Achievement. He lives in Austin, Texas.
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Read an Excerpt


The Flowers

By Dagoberto Gilb GROVE PRESS
Copyright © 2008
Dagoberto Gilb
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1859-2


Chapter One Not that many years ago I would go to a house in the neighborhood, not always someone's I knew, one I'd never been inside of, where I'd only have to maybe hop a fence, nothing complicated, and from the backyard I'd crawl through an open window. People always latch the ones in the front but never in the back, and especially not the bathroom one, you know, and it wasn't so small I couldn't get in quick. I could've stole lots of shit in those houses, except that's not what I was going in there for. I wasn't like that. Maybe I don't know exactly what I was doing except I was doing it. I never took nothing, nothing much if I did, because I didn't want to. I was more watching how the people lived, imagining how it would be in their house. I stared at the framed pictures they had of their family. Husbands in suits and wives with necklaces and old grandparents from the other times way before. Unsmiling dudes, glaring at you, in tilted military hats and coats with medals and ribbons. Full-body shots of happy daughters in white veils and lacy crunchy wedding dresses that poured all over into the bottom of the picture. Shocked little babies on blue backgrounds squinting like What's going on here, what's all this light shit? Dopey-dumb I'm-so-proud high schoolers graduating and making a face like they were department store managers. If I felt like it, if I had the mood, I sprawled out on their couches or lay down on their beds. Go, How would I be if I lived here? I'd let that come into me, I'd let my mind go to the show it liked. Maybe you could say I would go off to my own world. To me it wasn't mine, nothing like mine, because it would go to black. I loved that color. It was like when the eyes aren't open but try to see. What would finally come were colors and lines busting through, flying out and off and cutting in, crazy fires and sparks, and it'd come out speeding, and I'd be like a doggie out the window, those lane dividers whiffing by on the freeway straight below an open car window. I'd start to see shapes floating and straightening and wiggling and see it like it was a music that didn't make sound but was making a story. Not a regular story and I don't mean one you would hear some loco nut tell you, one that didn't have nothing to do with people or places you've ever seen. It's that I can't describe it better. Just, I have to watch, I have to listen. It was always good too. Say like when you hear music and it gets inside your brain and goes and goes, sticking there. And so I guess it got in mine like that. I listened and watched until I stopped getting too stupid because, you know, I had to leave and get out of there fast. And once I got up, shook it off and remembered where I really was, even if I opened their refrigerator, when I looked inside, wasn't like I didn't think of eating or drinking, I didn't take even a soda, thirsty as I might have been. I didn't want them to know I'd been there. Though I kind of opened the fridge door because maybe I do think of-well, like orange juice. It's that I like orange juice. So maybe when there was some orange juice I might have taken a gulp or two. But see, even then, nobody'd really know. One time I was in this one house, and I was looking inside a drawer in this girl's bedroom. I knew about her because she was this dude's older sister, and she was in junior college. It was that there were a bunch of bras, and I picked them up and looked at them, touched them because I was holding them. Wasn't like I never seen my mom's and my sister's, it wasn't like I didn't know the difference. And it was the only time there was something like that, swear, and I did stop and yeah I still got jumpy about it and felt like it was fucked up, real bad of me and afterward I only snuck into one more house. Like I said, I didn't know what I was doing it for, and it wasn't like I liked doing it.

I heard this shit because she was on the phone and I listened to her. It was her sound, a white ripply line right into the black. Not above. Black was everywhere and the white came from the front, above, maybe below. I don't know. I think it was Nely she was talking to, probably. That was who she talked to. That's who I thought. My mom was going like What can he do? and So what he screamed. Listen to me, she said. No, listen to me. No, listen, listen. And I listened to what I could. I saw the white ribbon curling and swirling. Men. She kind of laughed. He will never know, she said. Ay, ay, no! She laughed. She said, He is a man, and I didn't ask for that. She was laughing but not laughing happy and I'm listening and I'm like going to that somewhere else inside my head, all by myself.

I got worried I was getting sent to juvie when I did have to go to the court because of nothing, for so much less. That was this time when the police scraped the tires of their black-and-white against the curb ahead of me. I was walking by myself. At first I didn't believe it was about me, but that policeman kept wanting to know what I was doing. I was not wanting to say. Okay, maybe, even really I was scared like anybody and I didn't want to show it but probably I did. How was I supposed to answer because what'd I do? I was just walking, you know? Maybe a couple days earlier I pocketed a chocolate bar and I folded a baby comic book down my pants. It wasn't like the first time I did that, and when I did get caught this one and only time, when a drugstore man yelled something, I ran, and I never made it back to that store again and that was the worst of it and that already was back then, and no way anyone could still care or remember. So the passenger policeman who came up to me first, he goes, So what're you doing? and I'm like, Walking on the street, mister, which is when the driver policeman comes around to stand next to his partner, and he frowns at me too, like I'm stinky. Until a second or so later, he gets this expression on his face. His eyes go a little up to the sky, and his body gets kind of stiff, and he blows this fat old pedo. And so, like anybody would, I laughed. I did because it was funny, right? And so yeah I'm all guilty of laughing. But that's when they both get all blowed up mad-I'm disrespectful, and I got attitude, and who did I think I am? They got so close into my face I thought they were gonna kick the crap outta me. And so that's why I had to go to the juvie court, to hear a commercial about disrespecting the police and authority and to hear about all the potential trouble I was going to be in if I didn't go right and goodboy, straighten out and care about school and my education and get good grades. My mom had to be there with me too. She had to take off from work and listen and act like she was all worked up about me too, which she wasn't, I knew it, because I heard her talking all the time on the phone about what she was up with, but the lady judge wasn't going to notice nothing. Once I told my mom how the police dude threw a fart, she cracked up just like me, because it was funny, right? But I knew not to say nothing to a judge about what really happened. I'm not stupid. That judge, she wouldn't have laughed, and then I don't think my mom would've laughed no more, and she never laughed as much as me. She was tired, and she didn't like to waste time because she was already way too busy.

It was that my mom, if she wasn't at her job, was out on dates and whatever. And sometimes she'd get in so late I wouldn't be awake. That was better for me than when she was home, because when she was home, though I lived there and slept there, it was better to be inside a neighbor's house than pissing her off. She could get all mad and complaining about me and go how I messed up this and that and she could yell at me how she couldn't afford a maid to clean up after me, though once in a while a lady named Marta, a sister of a friend, would come to pick up the house and scrub the floors and wash windows and dishes and vacuum even under the torn couch cushions. That Marta thought I was all right because I made my own dinner and lunch and did my shit without nobody. She told me whenever she came too. That didn't mean much to me except when I was getting yelled at and I knew it really wasn't about none of what the yelling was about. Probably my mom's screaming at me was that it used to be my sister, Ceci, she could yell at. Then it got to be me. I didn't ever believe it was because I was a man or made bigger messes, like she said. My mom used to fight loud with my sister. She would get so she'd go after Ceci with belts or wooden hangers or whatever was near. One time it was a soda bottle. I remember that time good. I was eating banana after banana during the fight and my mom turned on me for one second too-maybe why was I eating all the bananas the minute she bought them-and my sister screamed right back so much it jumped back over to them and they called each other out, like they would go at it for real. Sometimes both of them would cry for a while during and after, though mostly it was my sister, once she got old enough, and meaner, until she finally stopped being at home much. Ceci wasn't talking to me very much then either. Then they were both gone mostly. It was just, without my sister there, I was starting to have the whole house, like it was mine. I never got hit or yelled at like Ceci. My mom would be around for maybe an hour or two, and she'd either change clothes and leave or be so tired she went into her bedroom and went to sleep.

This one night I was watching the TV. I already ate a cheese enchilada frozen dinner, which was crap, and the fried chicken, which I loved but my mom said cost too much. My dog, who I named Goofy because of her floppy black ears even though she was a girl dog, was with me on the couch after she licked the tin containers all clean, dragging them all around with her tongue, then scratching and biting at her pulgas back near my lap, when all the sudden she heard something and she was digging her claws against my legs because she was on it before a human ear could, running so fast she was barely able to make a corner turn to the straight-ahead for the front door, barking all excited like it was somebody she hadn't seen all day. I didn't hear nothing, probably because I had that TV on and nobody ever knocked on the door unless it was a Mormon or Jehovah or one of those ex-tecatos who love Jesus like their heroin, and I learned to stop opening the door for any of them. Usually I wouldn't even look if I did hear but because Goofy's barking so crazy I go, and before I even get near the door I could feel the pounding on it through the floor and I heard some man yelling at it loud and he's beating on it, so hard that it's shaking and rattling. I ain't going to answer but he keeps hitting on the door so much I can't help myself, the words pop out of me that my mom's not here. It was that he was screaming about her. He was screaming like You bitch, open the fucking door right now, you goddamn thief, you slut, you bitch, open this door, Silvia, right now, or I'll fucking bust it in.

I was standing there not sure what to say or do next, Goofy all barking and wagging like it was something fun.

"Open the door," he says. "Open the fucking door."

And without thinking first, now I'm talking too. I'm saying no. I'm saying that my mom's not home. I go reach over and check that it's still locked, and I hook the chain thing, backing away from it as quickly as I got close.

"Open the door," he says. He was beating on it so that the door was wanting to give in. "Open it!" I felt like the whole house was shaking.

Finally I can think for a second. It was hard because Goofy was going all crazy. "She's not home!" I shouted. I can think finally, and what I'm thinking is that I know who it is. I'm thinking it's the man I heard her talking on the phone about. That once he'd shot a man. That he got drunk a lot. This man's voice sounded drunk.

"You open the door," he says, "or do you want me to bust it in?"

I swear he was slugging the door with his fist, and there was like a crackling wood sound.

"Do you hear me, kid? Do you fucking hear me?"

I'm whispering to Goofy to stop barking, Come on, Goof, trying to make her calm, but she's on automatic. It got like she was barking at another dog and wanting to bite.

"Where is the bitch? You tell that fucking mother of yours to open the door or I'm busting it in right now! You hear me?"

I ran to the kitchen. I had to open a bunch of drawers because my mom never put things in the same ones or maybe I didn't because I didn't know which drawer either. I found that big knife. It was as long as my wrist, a wood handle. As soon as I grip it in my hand, I don't feel as scared. I didn't care if he carried a gun. He comes in, I cut the dude. Goofy was still wailing at the door and he was still hitting on it and saying shit but it seemed quieter to me. I walked back a little slow, and I didn't go near the door but to one side of it. I held the big knife in my hand and I'm gripping it so hard I didn't feel like it was a knife but me.

The man started kicking the door. Then he was throwing his body against it, and you could hear wood cracking. I'm just standing there and I didn't hear Goofy no more, if she was even barking. When the door blasts, splintering the side it opened on, it swung so hard and wild that Goofy didn't move away and she made a loud crying yelp, getting thrown against the wall, crushed between it and the door. The man was standing outside on the front porch and breathing fast. He rolled up the sleeves of his white business shirt and tucked it into his black slacks and there was some tattoo on his right forearm muscle and he had on a slippery tie loose around an unbuttoned collar and he was big. His face all purple. Real quick Goofy went back to her barking again and the man couldn't figure out which of us to look at first until I see him see my knife. His eyes were slits but I could feel heat and breathing out of them too and I was standing there maybe ten feet away, one hand with the big knife loaded in it, the other hand clenched and a little up, looking ready to jab in a left-right combination.

"Watch yourself now, kid," he says, stepping inside toward me.

I stepped back, though not like I was backing off.

"You have to put that down right now," he says to me. "You just drop it, okay kid?"

I didn't say nothing. I stepped back once more, keeping the same distance between us. He stepped toward me again and I backed up once more, thinking where a knife should go....

Then he went at me. He was so fast he took me down even before I saw him come and his hand locked my hand with the knife in it to the floor. He pushed the air out of me because his body on me was so heavy I couldn't breathe. Goofy was growling and biting him and I was trying to at least kick his nuts but I didn't do a thing to him and when I made him roll a little, it made the knife dig into my own stomach.

He got me onto my back and pinned me, both my hands pressed to the floor, his knees into my chest, hurting my ribs, the knife not cutting me or him.

"Stop," he says, too close to my face. "You gonna stop?" Goofy was back to biting him and that was when he let go of me, ripping the knife away from me as he stood up. Goofy kept going for his leg until his hard black shoe lifted her jaw and head when he kicked her there really hard, and she whimpered, hurt. I got up once he got off me, and I was crying, and I saw how I was bleeding at my stomach. It didn't hurt or nothing yet. He was standing there watching me for what might not have been such a long time, and then he just turned around and took off out the broken front door.

And so all the time it seemed like I was hearing her on the phone when I didn't want to. I probably wanted to know, but I didn't want to hear. Wondered who it was when I heard her going, Whatever I have to do, or, No, I won't, no. The phone was nothing good. It was like waiting on a school bell, jumping at how loud and always expecting. When I can't not listen in on her, I want to smash that quiet between. When it was her voice I was following, when there was silence it meant that some shit would hit. So I tried to never listen. I made it go black inside my head, and then words, when she'd make them, were these shapes that wormed around, spraying light that would disappear into a hole that was bigger than any room I been in.

(Continues...)




Excerpted from The Flowers by Dagoberto Gilb Copyright © 2008 by Dagoberto Gilb. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 8, 2009

    Classic Los Angeles Fiction

    What rare satisfaction to read a fascinating and authentic novel. A narrative that is not just the same as what we can skim in the news, what most novels and Non-fiction books are these days. Even the most popular writers do the same stories that you might have read 30 years ago. This is not that.


    This is the third book by Gilb I have read. I can see why he isn't popular. He is not a best-selling style of writer. He's brilliant and artistic. He writes with intelligence, humor, and poetic grace in his sentences and paragraphs. He is immensely talented and distinctive. It is a sad comment that this is why he is not a best-seller. Though I think it is what happens to all first-rate writers that they are not appreciated until years and years later.


    As fresh and specific as the writing in the Flowers is, I wish I had contacts to the film industry. I'd sell it fast for what would be an engrossing movie. It is a ghetto story set around what must be the 1965 Watts Riot. The main character is Chicano-American named Sonny Bravo. He is brave to be living with a redneck stepfather named Cloyd Longpre. He is a racist construction manager and owns the apartment building Los Flores, the Flowers, where Sonny lives. Longpre has married Silvia, Sonny's mom. A healthy teenager, Sonny is haunted by girls. One is Cindy, who is sex-starved and using drugs and drinking. The other is Nica, who is almost a slave babysitter for her own Mexican stepfather and mother in an apartment in the building. An unhealthy teenager, Sonny also steals, and that is a lot of the fuel in the novel. Sonny befriends a Black albino tenant in the building named Pink, who has the ring of a Black militant though he sells used cars outside the Los Flores. A child-molester drives around following Sonny to and from school. Sonny carries a special rock just for him. Finally there are his best friends, the Hernandez twins, who always show up for laughs. Gilb has made his novel both tragic and comic.


    I love to read and collect books set in Los Angeles. Highly entertaining, the Flowers is one of the best written from inside the city. It ranks in the company of Nathaniel West, Mike Davis, John Fante, Walter Mosely and Raymond Chandler.


    Highly recommended. I can't wait to see the film version.

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  • Posted December 2, 2008

    Dagoberto Gilb Strikes again with another well written novel

    This is the second book/ short story that I have read that Dagoberto Gilb has authored. He has again captured my attention and continues to go above and beyond all that writers should strive to be. He managed to achieve of level of personal connection that most authors can only imagine of capturing. The way he writes also makes it seem like he is writing from his own experiences which makes is eaiser for readers and audiences to connect with it. <BR/>I would recommend any book authored by this man to anyone who would like a good pleasure or read or anyone who would like to discover more about themselves.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2008

    A reviewer

    I finished The Flowers yesterday. It is one of the finest books of American fiction I have read in years. I could go on about why, but I will spare you because that would take too long. Suffice it to say that many will only know it as a book of 'ethnic' or 'Chicano' literature. It is that too, but it transcends the category in the same way that Rushdie does. I loved reading Oscar Wao too, but The Flowers is a far more important work, striving to be more, say more, and succeeding. Aside from that, it is a fine read, one you won't be able to put down.

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    Posted October 29, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2010

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