East Bay Grease, Eric Miles Williamson’s now classic first novel, has received worldwide acclaim as one of the great depictions of working-class America in the latter half of the 20th century. The story of T-Bird Murphy, born in the tumultuous 1960’s and raised in the ghettoes of Oakland, California variously by his mother, who rides with the Hell’s Angels, his father, who is an ex-convict, and the father figures who range from musicians to construction workers, East Bay Grease is a novel of dignity, honor, and courage that has been compared to the works of John Steinbeck, Jack London, and Upton Sinclair.
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.)
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. (Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.)