by Brian Ascalon Roley

Publisher:  WW Norton

Pub Date:  Spring 2002

Format:   Trade Paperback original

Brief Description
The critically-acclaimed first novel, set in gang-saturated Los Angeles.  Tells the story of the dark, coming-of-age relationship between two Filipino brothers.   A 2002 Pacific Rim Finalist.  The author received his MFA from Cornell, where he won their prestigious prize for fiction.
(see below for Full Description)

2002 Pacific Rim Finalist
* New York Times Notable Book of the Year
* 2003 AAAS Book Award in Prose



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"In bare and muscular prose, American Son deftly seduces with this emotional yet unsentimental coming-of-age journey."
--Helen Zia, author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People

"Brian Ascalon Roley's first novel seems to bear some of the marks of a creative writing workshop production -- the spare present-tense sentences, the rather small cast of characters -- yet Roley not only transcends these limitations but turns them to his advantage. His attention to detail and his understanding of his complicated, and complicating, characters suggest that he knows what he's talking about. It is this confidence that makes the reader willing to inhabit the ugly world of racism exposed in ''American Son.''...Roley's narrative choices seem deliberate rather than a matter of an inadequate stylistic repertory or paucity of imagination. The calm sentences suggest Gabe's isolation and relative passivity; the family's interactions demonstrate how bigotry affects the most intimate relations, and Gabe's uncertain voice seems a symptom of a precarious identity. The patience with which Roley builds the story from carefully chosen pieces is his main asset; the painful process of understanding race becomes palpable. The patience is rewarding for the reader as well: ''American Son'' is a gripping book."
--New York Times

(click here to read the full review)

"Hard-hitting and brash, this debut novel takes a cold, clear-eyed look at the American immigrant experience. Come home, urges Uncle Betino in a letter from Manila at the beginning of Roley's tale. But Betino's sister Ika, divorced from her American husband and living in the U.S. with her two sons born in the Philippines, believes even the harsh struggle to survive in California is better than living under the strict caste system of her homeland. One of her boys, Tomas, has assumed the persona of a young Mexican street thug and is helping her make ends meet by raising and selling guard dogs to rich clients. His brother, Gabe, the story's narrator and the good son, seeks to understand the mysteries of his adopted country. Roley uses the familiar Cain-and-Abel approach to illustrate the occasionally vicious tug of wills between the two youths, whose relationship is being slowly altered by the outside forces of the alien American culture. Formerly deemed a mama's boy, Gabe runs away, stealing his brother's prized Oldsmobile and best dog, trying to escape his brother's growing influence. It's not long before he is back home, ashamed and ready to submit to the will of both his brother and America. His mother looks on sadly as both of her boys are swallowed up by the American dream and the promise of the prosperous life at all costs. Despite rare lulls in the plot and an occasional glitch in the novel's overall strong structure, this is a powerhouse story of vulnerable strangers in a brutal, alien land told with stylish restraint, bare-knuckled realism and tender yet tough clarity."
--Publishers Weekly

"In his debut novel, Roley details the Filipino immigrant experience through the troubled relationship between two brothers and their struggle to assimilate into the culture of Southern California. Gabe, the younger of the two, serves as his family's peacemaker, struggling to maintain good grades while hiding brother Tomas' dangerous activities from his mother. Tomas has adopted the Mexican gangster style of dress and breeds attack dogs that he sells to the Hollywood celebrities who inhabit the fringes of their lives. When Gabe runs away to Northern California, he finds temporary solace in the kindness of strangers: the tow truck driver whose chatty nature belies his own hidden pain; the tart-tongued diner waitress who has family problems of her own. However, when Gabe returns home, he must face the consequences from the increasingly violent Tomas. Roley never judges his characters but rather shows the pain and anger that propel their actions. His clipped and poetic style serves the novel well, and readers will be compelled to follow this tale to its violent and ambiguous conclusion.

"Roley writes with assurance, grace and insight, and he plays expertly with our perceptions and expectations....explosive and illuminating."
--Los Angeles Times

Full Description
A powerful novel about ethnically fluid California, and the corrosive relationship between two Filipino brothers. Told with a hard-edged purity that brings to mind Cormac McCarthy and Denis Johnson, American Son is the story of two Filipino brothers adrift in contemporary California. The older brother, Tomas, fashions himself into a Mexican gangster and breeds pricey attack dogs, which he trains in German and sells to Hollywood celebrities. The narrator is younger brother Gabe, who tries to avoid the tar pit of Tomas's waywardness, yet moves ever closer to embracing it. Their mother, who moved to America to escape the caste system of Manila and is now divorced from their American father, struggles to keep her sons in line while working two dead-end jobs. When Gabe runs away, he brings shame and unforeseen consequences to the family. Full of the ache of being caught in a violent and alienating world, American Son is a debut novel that captures the underbelly of the modern immigrant experience.

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