Title: Street People
Author: Michael Nava
Publisher: Kórima Press
Length: 134 Pages
Category: Literary Fiction, Drama
At a Glance: Michael Nava is an accomplished storyteller, and Street People is proof that a complete story can be told in an economy of words—as long as they are the right words, deliberate and evocative and delivered with skill.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Ben Manso drifts through life, working as a rent boy, until a casual encounter with an eight-year-old street kid named Bobby at a convenience store changes everything. When Ben sees Bobby again, the boy is with a man who claims to be Bobby’s father, but Ben suspects the man is a pedophile and the boy his captive. A third encounter draws Ben deeper into Bobby’s drama and forces him to face his own haunted past. After Ben’s well-intentioned plan to rescue Bobby puts the boy in even greater danger, Ben is forced to make a life-changing choice.
Street People is the story of lives at the margin, about the throw-away people we see without seeing, and the real meaning of family.
Review: Award winning author Michael Nava’s latest release is the short but deeply gratifying story of an LA sex worker who doesn’t have sex for money because he likes sex. He has sex for money because his personal disinterest in sex makes him good at it, and it’s difficult to discern whether Ben’s apathy towards the mechanics of his job is owed to asexuality or a general indifference, but I found myself fascinated by the juxtaposition of it.
I was invested in Ben’s story from its intriguing start to its touching finish. Nava is an accomplished storyteller, and Street People is proof that a complete story can be told in an economy of words—as long as they are the right words, deliberate and evocative and delivered with skill. I love the seedy little details sprinkled throughout the narrative that add to the story’s ambiance and plays a role in informing these characters; they would not be the same people in Lincoln, Nebraska as they are in Los Angeles, California. Ben’s elderly neighbor Wade is the perfect example of a character infused with his own charm and personality, who also serves to expose a bit more of Ben’s true self, of who Ben is behind his pretty face and beyond what we may have assumed on the surface, another fine example of Nava’s expository finesse.
Ben works for an escort service with a female clientele, moonlights on the side having sex with men, is a cater waiter in his spare time, and often plays witness to the seamier side of the city streets—the street people, the kids who sell their bodies to keep a little food in their bellies, and the johns who partake of their services. It’s at a convenience store one night, while he’s buying a pack of cigarettes and a box of condoms, that Ben encounters the little boy who, by virtue of his innocence and vulnerability, pings Ben’s conscience and compassion. And then that boy unintentionally goes on to change the course of Ben’s life forever. Street People is the story of a man who sets out to rescue a young boy he fears is hustling and being abused, and without conscious intent on that boy’s part, little Bobby ends up rescuing Ben in return. The story illustrates some of the inherent flaws within our justice system, and highlights the trials Ben faces in the court of social prejudice, judged and convicted without due process because of the way he’s made a living and in spite of the integrity and purity of his desire to advocate for a defenseless child.
Nava’s Henry Rios makes a cameo appearance in the story as the attorney who is prepared to defend what at first blush seems an indefensible crime. Henry is circumspect, the voice of reason and fair play where his client may not have been represented otherwise, and what felt like his almost casual inclusion in this story was not only a great surprise but advanced Ben’s objective and added a perfect touch to the book’s conclusion.
Short in terms of page count but profound in its emotional resonance, Street People is an introspective read that spoke to my deep satisfaction in seeing the righting of wrongs in an imperfect world. It shines a spotlight on and forces us to not only look at its characters but to see them, some of whom are ‘the least of these’ that we overlook every day because they expose our detachment and most basic human failings.
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