Dirty Little Angels is Chris Tusa's first novel and it's a doozy. The story evokes comparisons to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Both books can both be called Southern Gothic complete with flawed, off-center characters. Both give voice to the downtrodden, depressed and rejected while examining the human condition. Tusa's gritty writing style is not for everyone but it suits Hailey Trosclair, the teenage protagonist, just fine. It's all told from her prospective. Readers can easily visualize Hailey's despair and confusion.
The setting is the slums of New Orleans, where the Trosclair family lives in financial hardship. Hailey's mother suffered a miscarriage and a back injury and she's depressed. Her adulterous husband drinks, he's out of work and spending his days in the pool hall. A divorce seems inevitable. Older brother Cyrus hangs with a bad crowd and has been arrested a few times. Hailey and Cyrus spend more and more time with Moses Watkins, a preacher and ex-con, who is converting an abandoned bank into a drive through church. But Moses is not the answer to their prayers. Instead he leads them on a path to crime and violence.
Chris Tusa writes with raw haunting realism and a keen insight into human psychology. He provides vivid details about his character's lives and they're not pretty. This is not a fast paced thriller; it's all about characterization and setting. The story is bleak, the people are teetering on the verge of hopelessness, it's not a book for the faint of heart or for those who like happy endings. Despite the grim realism it's a powerful look into the struggles people face as they go through life and it will linger in your thoughts long after you close the cover.
Publisher: Livingston Press (March 30, 2009)