I will warn you that this novel is not for you if you react badly to violence towards children, sexual assault towards children, child prostitution etc etc.
Fourteen-year-old Goldsmith Jones is left stranded in crime-ridden, gangland territory. He finds himself living at The Shades, a home to local street kids. While selling sexual favours down the Dead Man’s Alley to survive, Jones is charmed by a seaman he knows as Sweet Virginia. Moving further away from the relative security that The Shades and his best friend, Raccoon, offered him, Jones is drawn ever closer to the manipulative Sweet Virginia. When Raccoon falls gravely ill and is taken to convalesce on the rural Rancheria, Jones is left under the controlling powers of the unscrupulous navvy. Swindled and wrongly accused, he is unexpectedly rescued by the leader of the villainous Suarez Brothers, the charismatic Saul. Faced with a choice between becoming Saul’s ‘little brother’ and saving Sweet Virginia’s life, Goldsmith Jones must embark on a dangerous journey which will change his young life forever.
Chapter 9: I Start Working
Jones is still reeling after finding the boy he’s been sleeping making out with another. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s out of money for rent. Alley Mac who manages the boys working on the street, lets him know its time to start earning his keep.
Its seems my paid up board had run out, and I was to start working down the Dead Man’s Alley for real.
She set me up on Washington Street a block away from the Shades. I was made to stand on top of a crate yelling, “Shoe shine, get your shoe shines,” five cents for the regular, two bits for the presidential service—which meant frigging or sucking on a Dead Eye’s thing.
Alley Mac had a fella set up for me already, and said she was sticking around to make sure I done the job well.
I took a long look at that Joe. He was clean, but old, around thirty years living. His ears were overly large. Had red marks on his face that she said was due to him not caring much for fruit or vegetation, and not the clap like everyone was saying.
She went to him and they talked in private.
He swung a look at me and smiled.
He seemed friendly.
Alley Mac comes back to me saying, “Why didn’t you smile back? You got to smile back when they smile at you. Polish your teeth with your sleeve.”
So I did.
She ordered me to get down off the crate and tuck my shoeshine things away before they get stole. Then with me carrying my crate, Alley Mac, me, and Dead Eye headed down Dead Man’s Alley.
Men and boys were hidden in shadow. Some were standing toe to toe smoking pipes and talking. I saw a couple of Dead Eyes standing unmoving and erect like stone statues, each with a boy close up to them. One punk was moving his hand, frigging back and forth, the other had his face pressed against Dead Eye’s open waistbands. Another boy had done doing his and was spitting the job out into the dirt.
The strong smell of liquor was offending my nose. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My heart was running, I was panting hard like a hunted down critter. I wanted to turn back and fly, but my feet were stuck fast to the ground like Jesus nailed to the board.
I thought, for a moment, I caught sight of Juan. I swallowed courage and looked closer still, to see if Whitey blue-eyes were with him. But they weren’t there. And the thought of them, maybe being together, someplace else, lying butt naked in the hay, made my eyes fill with tears.
“Don’t start crying,” said Alley Mac. “Dead Eyes don’t like it, and the kind that does, you don’t want to know.”
I wiped my tears away, apologized and told her I didn’t feel well, and how I ought to go back and try again tomorrow.
But she had her mule ears on. “Now look at your man and give him a smile,” she said.
I looked at the fella. And his contagious looking skin. Strange ears that didn’t seem to belong to his head. Had his hands in his pockets and was staring at me with crazy owl eyes.
I bit my lip to stop my tears from spewing down my cheeks. I swallowed hard and tried on a smile.
He smiled back and gave me a little wave.
“So, you know what to do?” she said.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll be waiting around the corner for when you’re done. And don’t worry, he’s nice. Just be nice back. Make him feel, you know, welcome. Keep smiling at him. Look interested. And, before he tells you what he wants, get in first with your own order. Ask him if you can tug on his rooster. Tell him it turns your fancy. That way you’ll be running the show, not him.”
“What about asking for money,” I said.
“No, I already took care of that, all’s you got to do is your job.”
“All right,” I says, “but, do I got to call it ‘rooster,’ can I call it something else?”
“Call it what you will,” she said, “just make sure he understands what you’re getting at. Some of them have a way of taking their own meaning and you don’t want that. They get all kinds of strange ideas. So be clear, all right.”
Excerpt From: Sam Taylor-Pye. “Goldsmith Jones”
This was a strange book. I didn’t really know what was going on a lot of the time. I will warn you that this novel is not for you if you react badly to violence towards children, sexual assault towards children, child prostitution etc etc.
I was confused for a lot of this novel, in terms of the characters I wasn’t sure how they were really feeling about situations. I didn’t know whether Goldsmith was in love with Sweet Virginia because he was queer or because he was forced into a life of gay prostitution and was confused about everything. I do think that Goldsmith is gay but it was just really confusing to read. Added to that there is a character who I think is trans but it wasn’t really clarified what the deal was with the character.
This novel was horrible in that it was completely honest, it was so incredibly brutal. There was a lot of time I just felt so uncomfortable reading it that I had to put it down. But it’s never romanticised, it’s written in a way that tells you that of course this wasn’t good stuff that was happening, it never once made it seem like it was all a-okay. It was an interesting insight into what sexuality was like in the late 1800s, the hypocrisy of happily getting sexual favours from young boys down a back alley but calling people derogatory names for doing the same thing and getting absolutely raging when anyone dare suggest they were anything but straight.
All of the characters are terrible people, but that was simply systemic of the way they have to live their lives.
I found the book quite slow going for most of it, but the writing is really well done, I could imagine all the places detailed. It was a hard book but an interesting one.
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Sam Taylor-Pye grew up on the border between Washington state and British Columbia, Canada and currently lives in Kent in the UK. She received her BA from the Open University, and has an MA in Creative Writing. This is her first published novel.