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East Bay Grease: A Novel Paperback – March 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (March 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312204043
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312204044
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 6.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,814,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Williamson's generally impressive debut charts the coming-of-age of a young man burdened by poverty, a dysfunctional family and a violent milieu, but endowed with what may turn out to be the saving grace: musical talent. In Oakland, Calif.'s tough neighborhood of bikers, drifters and Mexican immigrants during the late '60s and early '70s, T-Bird Murphy moves from childhood to his late teen years, developing a vengeful attitude as a protective carapace. When T-Bird's neglectful, promiscuous mother decamps with a Hell's Angels lover, the boy goes to live with his ex-con father in a trailer next to a gas station. His two half-brothers leave foster homes to join them, but the vision of a reunited family is later destroyed by the younger siblings' senseless, violent deaths. In elementary school T-Bird makes friends and enemies as he oscillates between two identities and alliances: nerds and thugs; he makes good grades, but he also steals, smokes, drinks and indulges in other antisocial behavior. His nascent talent on the trumpet is encouraged by a school field trip to Reno for a jazz band competition, but, like most hopeful events in T-Bird's life, the experience sours in drunken frustration. His on-the-road adventures with a Mexican jazz band, Los Asesinos, in high school, invigorate the novel with vivid details of creative development. Yet T-Bird is always tainted by the code of blood revenge that haunts his past and present and commits him to an act of brutality that almost results in a man's death. Later, a specialized construction job sets him on a fateful road trip. A belatedly revealed secret about his parentage leads to a denouement of wary reconciliations. T-Bird's bleak life is depicted with stark and candid details, though at times his auxiliary misadventures dissipate the drama his story could yield. The cumulative and potent portrayal, however, is of a low and ugly corner of contemporary culture, and of a resilient young man who desperately fights and anxiously surmounts the odds stacked against him.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Never has coming of age been depicted in a more harrowing narrative than in Williamson's first novel, the tale of T-Bird Murphy, a white boy growing up in Oakland, CA. When T-Bird's mother isn't abusing him, she is sexually servicing a motorcycle gang. After she abandons him to his ex-con father, T-Bird's challenge is to stay alive, negotiating his way through the Hispanic and African American gangs in his new school while maintaining his GPA and playing the trumpet. In a rapid-fire, unadorned style, the author tells the story of the inner-city youths who have three strikes against them before they walk out the door. While not for the weak-stomached, this unblinking look at the underside of America is imbued with a dignity and sense of humanity that will reward its readers. Recommended for larger fiction collections.?Andrea Caron Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
5 star
73%
4 star
20%
3 star
0%
2 star
0%
1 star
7%
See all 15 customer reviews
His writing is breathtaking and brave.
Karen Yochim
In that sense, the book is a great insight into blue-collar life.
A. Ross
This is one of those books that reveals more on every reading.
T. Hover

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I read East Bay Grease with growing admiration for the language, courage and honesty. By the time I finished the book, I had tremendous respect for the writer. That he lived through the world he describes is a triumph. That he subsequently wrote such an eloquent novel is a testament to the power of art, and to Mr. Williamson as an artist.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Hal E. Whiteside on June 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Eric Miles Williamson does a great job of describing real life for the have-nots. Most people,especially today's youth,don't know what it's like to have to work like T-Bird had to in order to survive on his own. Forced, as he expected and accepted, to leave home the day after graduating from high school. T-Bird is much smarter and more talented than his environment and low expectatious family will allow. Williamson gives us insight to what the Oakland scene is really like and how difficult it is for
even an intelligent kid to escape.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
Coming-of-age novels tend to be highly autobiographical, and true to form, Williamson's own youth provides much of the fodder for this novel set in late '60s to mid '70s Oakland. The story starts with adolescent T-Bird living with his Hell's Angels-groupie mother in a ramshackle house in a largely Latino blue-collar part of Oakland. T-Bird's life consists of trying to get by in elementary school while avoiding the tough black and Mexican kids who prey on him daily. These years are lonely ones, sprinkled with a few touches of humor and compassion. Especially memorable is his friendship with Hiro, a Japanese-American nerd in his class who he plays chess and collect baseball cards with.
The second part of book begins with his father's parole from prison, and his mother's abandonment. T-Bird and his father move to a trailer next to the gas station where his father works, and his two brothers come from foster homes to live with him. T-Bird starts to follow in his father's trumpeting footsteps as well, playing in the school jazz band. While he enjoys more of a family life, his father's bigotry also starts to warp T-Bird's world. A conflict with a local family of Latinos escalates into a deadly vendetta that is handled with odd detachment.
Eventually T-Bird gets work as a trumpeter in "Los Assassinos" a local Mexican band that takes him into the Latino world of Northern California. He then finishes school and moves on to a series of manual jobs, as a gunite (concrete blown at high speed) man and a demolitionist. All of these vocations are treated with the level of detail that only an insider can provide. In that sense, the book is a great insight into blue-collar life. However, the book suffers from a curiously detached approach to tragedy.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
East Bay Grease allows us to enter a world that we knew existed, but were afraid to think about. The story is a wake-up call; it makes you realize just how good you have it and that things are not as bad as it seems. It makes you appreciate the things you have and don't have. It makes you appreciate your family, your loved ones, and to just really appreciate life in general. T-Bird is an inspiration for us all; he represents the do'ers in the world, and he will not stop until he finds what he's looking for. East Bay Grease is the type of novel that is uplifting to your soul. The story represents all walks of life and it reminds us that we are all different...but the same. Different authors mean stories and experiences. It's refreshing to finally read a story that is realistic,and doesn't just tell us what we want to hear. Williamson has guts, and is not afraid to tell it like it is. We should congratualte him for being so honest. Mark my words, it will be in Cliff Notes in the near future.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By T. Hover on November 3, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this novel exhilarating. T-Bird Murphy is the fat smart kid without a father in a dangerous neighborhood, with an abusive mother who eventually abandons him. His first job is to learn to survive in a situation in which he's often got no food, the power to his home is cut off, and gang members are preying on him daily.

He learns to fight back against the people who are victimizing him and stop the physical torment, but the victory is emotionally and morally complicated, and ultimately teaches him empathy. He grows further in his understanding of people and the world around him as he starts to become an artist--a trumpet player in a Mexican band.

Williamson borrows from Joyce's Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in depicting the world and events of the novel from the perspective of T-Bird's own changing level of emotional and intellectual maturity. Some reviewers here have mentioned that in parts of the novel, the emotional reaction to tragedy seems muted or absent--I believe what they're missing is that Williamson is filtering the experience through young T-Bird's head. A 10 or 12-year-old poor kid in a violent neighborhood tends not to react to events with poetry. Instead, T-Bird's emotional reactions to events often come out as subsequent action. I found it a real treat to be trusted to get into this character's head this way.

As T-Bird grows, Williamson's language changes and develops into full-out poetry, at the same time as T-Bird's emotional reactions get more direct and his understanding of the world matures and gains complexity. The novel ends with an homage to Joyce's story The Dead, in a scene in which T-Bird achieves transcendence over the negative forces around him.
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