By: Chris Tusa
Reviewed by: Beth Wilder
The University of West Alabama’s Livingston Press, 2009
In his debut novel Dirty Little Angels, Louisiana writer Chris Tusa explores the dirty little world of the New Orleans slums and the downtrodden people who stumble through the bad side of town among crack houses, drug dealers, and rampant poverty. This raw and gritty story sucks the reader in to the dangerous, hopeless lives of two urban teenagers, Hailey Trosclair and her brother Cyrus, as she desperately tries to save her dysfunctional family from ruin.
Sixteen-year-old Hailey watches helplessly as her parents’ marriage falls apart because of her father’s infidelity and her mother’s depression. She also watches Cyrus, her older brother and hero, as he slides into the underbelly of New Orleans urban life. She looks to God for salvation, but finds instead a twisted preacher and ex-con named Moses who poisons her ideas about religion and pulls her and Cyrus further into a downward spiral.
Tusa has a knack for urban dialogue, which he uses effectively to create the flawed, black-hearted characters who whirl around Hailey and Cyrus in this dark tale. He paints his nasty characters honestly, but not without compassion. Tusa has a great understanding of the beauty that lies beneath the glaring flaws of his tragic characters. He also has a knack for ending a chapter. His final sentences pack such a punch that you simply must turn the page and keep reading.
This is a fast-paced, powerful story, a story that moves quickly and tragically to the very end. But it is not a story without some redemption, some salvation. Tusa has shown us a world full of desperate people, but at least it is a world in which some of them are still seeking, still searching for some glimmer of hope. As readers, we are fully aware we are following Hailey on a journey straight to Hell, but we somehow think she can find her way home again.
Though this is his first novel, Tusa has published a book of poetry, titled Haunted Bones, and his work has appeared in Connecticut Review, Texas Review, Prairie Schooner, The New Delta Review, Passages North, and others. A native of New Orleans, he teaches in the English department at LSU. His is a new and powerful voice arising from the South, and there is no doubt we will hear more from him in the years to come. April 2009
Beth Wilder is a freelance writer working and living in Birmingham.