There are familiar social influences at play in Rodney "Neon" Robinson's development into a fearsome crime lord during the 1960s. His mother Doris walks out on her cheating husband Earl, transplants her brood from a small Texas town to Los Angeles's crime-ridden Compton ghetto and raises them without an appropriate male role model in the home. But by far the most important factor is that-from the time little Neon throws a tantrum and receives a hot dog instead of a spanking-his parents refuse to mete out the whippings his misbehavior so richly deserves. Everything flows from that misguided lenience-arson, robbery, rape and murder, all of it crescendoing to a Sophoclean family tragedy. Along the way, Neon and his less epic brother Rap start the Bloods street gang during a stint in juvie, using candy shipments from Earl and Doris-there is no limit to their indulgence-as a patronage fund. (The origin of the Bloods' nemeses, the Crips, is traced to one Willie Wright, a legendary bum-legged prison bodybuilder whose simmering beef with Neon sparks the historic red-vs.-blue antagonism.) Neon is a stone-cold thief and killer with no redeeming qualities except a lingering sentimentality toward his mom, and his story is an old-fashioned parable. As the heartbroken Doris is reminded by a succession of commentators, from the many well-meaning LAPD officers to the spirit messengers who appear to her in a vision, Neon's infamies are the inevitable result of her failure to take a timely belt to his hide. The novel's chief virtue is its vigorous and pungent, though stereotyped, portraitof ghetto life, stocked with sassy hookers, smooth pimps, menacing thugs and hapless wannabe hoodlums-and lots of earnest strivers wondering where their kids went wrong.
A crude but lively morality play.