A Crytal Diary by Frankie Hucklenbroich
[$12.95, paperback, Firebrand Books, Ithica, New York]

There are tens of thousands of professional novelists in the United States, though far fewer make enough money to do without a second source of income. There are hundreds of thousands of serious novelists who have not yet sold a novel. And there are millions of amateur writers in the U.S. who have a manuscript finished or half-finished. Amidst this wealth of talent it is difficult to stand out, especially when we have 6000 years of literary backlog to choose from as well. Since no one reviewer can sort through the 50,000 or so books published in the U.S.A. each year, the average reader has no one trustworthy to rely upon for guidance. The major reviewing publications have a simple formula for choosing books to review: those by authors already famous, and those with huge advertising budgets. Of course, the first category is created by spending sufficient time in the second category. Discovering a new writer worthy of public attention is, nevertheless, quite exciting for me. I have seldom found a new writer I liked on the New York Times bestseller lists. I have always had to hunt a little harder.

So I'd like to share my latest prize with those of you who care about life and literature: A Crystal Diary by Frankie Hucklenbroich. The Prologue sets you in St. Louis in 1957, in the dark ages, the age of Senator McCarthy and the cold war. Nicky, the narrator and protagonist, is worried: she is a virgin, she is "different," and the social scene is, well, a tad difficult for youngsters. Then the novel proper, Chapter One, jumps back to an even younger Nicky who is a mere spectator to a post World War II phenomena: the return of a soldier. Only the soldier, Jo Koerner, was a WAC, and is in no mood to be treated with disrespect by the local men. The novel does not mention it, but in the United States, and probably elsewhere, the return of soldiers after a war is often a problem for the establishment. In particular, there were several insurrections of decommissioned black soldiers after World War's I and II when they were re-subjected to racist laws. Nicky becomes a rebel, of sorts, the lawless, criminal kind, basically selfish kind.

The book reflects Nicky's boastful, bragging attitude towards life, but oddly is able to combine that with Nicky's sense of quality. Nicky is a low-life, often a petty criminal, seldom able to hold a job, but she has a code, a code of others of her type, and a gallantry that is infectious. She excels at what she does, whether it is picking up a new lover, pimping, cadging a night's free lodging, or rolling a drunk. Her resourcefulness eventually leads her to the ownership of a bar. There's a good sense of humor in the book as well, which is directed as much at Nicky as at the people she so sharply observes. Perhaps the funniest scene occurs when, after work, she sits down in a cafe with some young homosexual men she knows. A cop comes in and arrests her, accusing her of being a transvestite. Usually Nicky tries to be as macho as any guy can be, and it often gets her into difficult situations. Of course, she's a writer too, and this piece of fiction feels very autobiographical. So my big question is: what is next? Can Frankie Hucklenbroich write a second novel, one based on characters other than herself? I sure hope so, because the prose in A Crystal Diary is smooth and penetrating, cold as stone and hot as old-fashioned lead type. [Warning: A Crystal Diary contains graphic sexual, criminal, and drug-abuse scenes, often portrayed in a positive light.]

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