First published in 1976, Price’s novel is a finely tuned retrospective of a particular culture: Co-Op City housing project in the Bronx, where the working class de Coco family stumble through the disillusionment and chaos of their lives. Price inhabits the rages, frustrations and small accommodations of this family of four – Tommy; Marie; Stony, eighteen; and Albert, eight.
Stony has graduated high school, his electrician father, Tommy, and uncle Chubby long-time union members who anticipate Stony’s initiation into the union brotherhood, a solid job that will pay a decent wage in years to come. Caught in the middle of family and future, Stony still runs with his high school friends, Butler and Chili Mac, drinking, fighting, tortured by unstable relationships with females. Sonny resists the pull of family - he would like to work with kids, spend his years doing something he loves.
The family dynamic is filled with land mines - an unstable, raging mother who terrorizes her eight-year-old son, and a womanizing father who spends evenings at a local bar with his brother, Chubby. Tommy and Chubby are wild men, hard-working, hard-drinking and incurious, substituting one-night stands for intimacy, intolerant of change.
Struggling to survive his family, Albert clings to Stony, his protector in an unfriendly world. At eighteen, Stony’s emotions are ungovernable, his mind unused to rebellion against the status quo. Even when the offer of a full-time job at Cresthaven Hospital is offered to him, Stony is afraid to tell his father, hiding his joy when the sick kids respond to his fantastic stories with enthusiasm.
Stony strikes a Faustian bargain with his father, a life decision on the horizon, agonizing over the choices he must make. Price captures Stony’s ambivalence in a series of emotional outbursts with his best friend and with a young woman who appreciates Stony’s trust, at least until he closes down on her. Eventually the family tension reaches its limits and explodes into spontaneous violence, the excesses of two brothers who tear through life like adolescents and the frustrations of a young man who believes he must save them all.
Staccato dialog zigzags through the novel. Street-wise, tough, unsentimental, Price’s characters are stripped naked by their unhappiness and inability to change. Raw and painful, a few weeks in the summer have the effect of a derailed train, damage strewn in its wake, Stony caught between present and future. Like that train wreck, the silent screams of a dysfunctional family echo in the night air.