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50 Rooms    by Jason Allan Cole order for
50 Rooms
by Jason Allan Cole
Order:  USA  Can
Zumaya, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Jason Allan Cole, son of author Allan Cole, makes his debut with 50 Rooms - eleven short stories set in Los Angeles, California. They are eye-openers to a part of society that many try to forget - the homeless who dwell in the 'stinking alleys, and the condemned, abandoned buildings', down-and-outers, alcoholics, drug addicts, and dealers, and young Santa Monica girls lured willingly from their rich homes bordering Hollywood Boulevard.

Cole brings out that it isn't only the homeless who use these buildings, but also what he refers to as Playboy Gangster Crips who bring in their whores as well as drugs to sell. Sixteen-year old me, who has his space in one of the rooms, tells us, 'When you're homeless you get possessive. Much more than a person with many things of value ... when you have next to nothing, which in reality is nothing, you don't want to give it up to any man. What you have in your pockets is all that stands between you and the final insult of death and dishonor.'

The Quality of Mercy is narrated by Frank, a worker at the meatpacking plant. In the boss's office is a new secretary named Mercy, whose appearance brightens his outlook. Off to the Tattle Tale Room after punching out, and there she is - with the company foreman. Frank fancies taking her to dinner at a nice restaurant. He gets a new suit, a haircut, is off drugs for three weeks, and further into debt buying a new vehicle - all to impress Mercy. All Frank's efforts end in vain.

Another story begins, 'I was fifteen, and this would be the last year I would live at home.' With his parents and their friends, young Ethan does coke, drinks until all hours of the night, smokes pot, and takes Quaaludes. In a week he's homeless after a very drunk dad chases him down the street. 'The future was now. It still is', he muses.

In Short People we meet a midget named Carl, a mini-mart employee. Carl was never adopted from the county home, which he left at age eighteen. Carl hates his customers who have 'eyes with no souls behind them'. Anger gets out of hand - on both sides. Joe's story is earthshaking in He Drove. Joe seeks the whereabouts of Molly; he's been with others but cannot forget her. Anger turns to rage as he approaches her door.

The author - whose dedication to his wife Hiroko Cole reads, 'You taught me how to live again' - portrays the reality of street life. Common threads run through these stories that lean toward open endings, leaving readers pondering intent and meaning. 50 Rooms is not a light read but the characters, their world, and placement in society, are not promptly forgotten.

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