No one sees San Francisco quite the same as Peter Plate. Over the course of two decades and more than a half-dozen novels, Plate has chronicled the city's seamier half with an eye for grimy detail and a voice reeking with the corrosive smokiness of someone who's breathed life on the ungentrified side of the street. His perpetually struggling antiheroes writhe in their roles as small-time hustlers, broke SRO dwellers, beseiged social workers, recidivist ex-cons, and other archetypes of the damned, the lost, the forgotten. His books are crime stories where the worst crime of all is being poor in a rich city. And justice ― at least in the sense of moral rectitude triumphing over corruption and social inequality ― is rarely, if ever, served. In his latest book, Elegy Written on a Crowded Street, Plate's damaged protagonist is May Jones, a beleaguered bail bondswoman attempting to help a young, black Fillmore District girl who's fighting a self-defense/murder rap. Plate doesn't attack the Fillmore's gentrification directly ― it's more like a blue-hour shadow encroaching ever-so-inexorably as the sun sets on San Francisco's unmoneyed minorities ― but it's clear Plate feels his characters' demographic may be doomed. "The price of real estate is astronomical," his omniscient narrator says. "It's cheaper to live on another star." And urban renewal's superficial rehabilitations have never healed the cancer of poverty ― "all it did was make the junkies look dirtier." Thankfully for those who share Plate's empathy for the downtrodden, Elegy finds plenty of dark corners to explore. "That's the beauty of trouble," he writes. "It never ends."
Thu., Nov. 4, 7 p.m., 2010