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The Angel of Polk Street

ISBN: 9780692824351
Publisher: Celeste Newbrough
Publication Date: 2017-03-01
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  • Regular price $784.19

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LEE, a sensitive blonde boy, is lured away from his family and upscale Berkeley neighborhood to endure years of captivity in a remote shack with an erratic and delusional criminal, Sam. As a way of surviving, Lee invents a guardian Angel as his confidante and guide. Even in the dark night of his soul and his impoverished, isolated life, the child takes joy in watching old movies on TV, reading the Gideon Bible and planting a desert garden:
"I have no shovel or trowel so I dug into the earth with my bare hands, scattering weeds and small stones, building up a frame of earth like they showed on TV. I don't have a wood boundary, but I make the edges straight. I work in the chicken manure until the soil looks rich with growing power. Then I plant the seeds. I feel a deep well of happiness rising inside me. 'We need to water every day, ' I tell Sam. We trudge inside to get two glasses of water, which I pour over the planted seeds. I straighten up in the sunlight, looking from my garden to the far line of the prairie with its long hills under the big blue sky. It's so beautiful to be out in the sunshine." (Angel) "Peace comes to the mystic in unexpected ways. At the edge of a garden patch in a scruffy, scalded land. When possibility has been seeded. And might bloom."

When Lee approaches puberty, he becomes increasingly aware of that he is female: "I was a bud, and now I am turning into the flower. Yes, even locked up in this tiny shack in the middle of nowhere, I bloom. The feelings I have that are sexy live all over my body and in my mind. They ache deep inside my belly in some invisible space, like a hidden baby ready to be born." Secretly she changes her name to LESLIE. The young transgender escapes and hitchhikes to San Francisco to the derelict Tenderloin District, where she performs a strip tease as the Angel of Polk Street, in a costume of her own design. She falls into a miasma of prostitution, drink and drugs, yet manages to pull out of it. She is discovered by a police officer who identifies the teenager as the boy, Lee, who disappeared many years ago. Leslie finally begins a new life with Veronica, struggling with nightmares and the deficits arising from acute isolation and abuse. Shunning sexuality, she pores over math and literature, finally coming of age as an elegant young transwoman.

VERONICA, Lee's loving and dedicated mother, is a Jungian psychiatrist. When Lee disappears, she becomes embittered. She moves from her dream therapy practice into criminal psychology, becoming a coveted prosecutor's witness. She mourns her son and spends years searching for him. When her kidnapped child returns as a girl, she is shocked and deeply grieves for her lost son. But she plunges into the task of nurturing Leslie, rediscovering the lost, tender feelings of maternity, to help her child transcend the deficits of her narrow, trauma-filled existence as a victim and a street youth.

SAM, Lee's kidnapper is an ignorant and ironically well intentioned pedophile. Given to violent outbursts, he creates hell for Lee and the few other boys he brings to his desert shack. As Lee sees it: "The problem with Sam is he's just plain stupid... I can't believe in this great country of America there wasn't someone, somewhere who didn't blow the stupid out of Sam."

Leslie convinces Veronica that she must plead for Sam's life, which she does in a riveting court scene. At a community playhouse, Leslie writes and directs a drama telling the story of Lee and acting the role of Luke's Angel. It becomes clear that earlier dramatic dialogues in the book are actually scenes from the play written by Leslie.

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