Peter Plate's story is one of hardscrabble redemption. A self-taught San Francisco writer, he draws from his years spent in poverty in the Mission District, squatting in abandoned buildings. He revels in a raw, unvarnished prose style, which befits his chosen protagonists: junkies, hookers, cops, and other 16th-and-Mission denizens. That style has earned Plate enough of a reputation for urban "authenticity" -- he's been compared to Algren and Bukowski -- that both NPR and Hollywood have come a-calling. To capitalize on the renewed interest, Seven Stories will republish on Jan. 3 two of Plate's slim early novels, the opening segments of what he calls his "Mission Quartet." While they offer some interesting glimpses of Mission life in the pre-boom '90s, they often beg for a fullness worthy of their subject.
One Foot Off the Gutter, first published in 1995, is an amateurish peek into the life of Coddy, a cop obsessed with taking over an abandoned Mission building and converting it into his dream house. Never mind that Coddy is so filled with a clichéd, doughnut-huffing rage at Mission life that you wonder why he'd want to live there in the first place; Plate uses Coddy as a straw man to sell the Mission as a place that is, if not explicitly anti-cop, at least gloriously anti-ambition. For description he substitutes laundry lists of Mission Street shop names; for character development he substitutes gunplay. Snitch Factory, set inside the Department of Social Services, is a marked improvement, following one caseworker's attempt to navigate relationships, the unending stream of Mission poor, and co-workers eager to sabotage her career. Though it shares most of Gutter's flaws, it includes moments of barfly wit, evidence that Plate's hard, simple prose is as comfortable with human foibles as it is with the Mission District dynamic that evokes them.