Grove Press , 1967.


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“This is a remarkable first novel.  Floyd Salas projects the reader into the slender body of his fifteen-year-old prize-fighter hero Aaron D’Aragon.  We see through Aaron’s eyes the structured underworld of a California prison farm dominated by sadistic perverts operating under the protection of the no-squeal code of their victims.  Aaron D’Aragon is a spirited gamecock of an adolescent being gradually torn apart by the desires to retain the faith of his dead mother and his contempt for the hypocritical world that has destroyed both mother and faith.

Salas has gone to the heart of the dilemma that faces a human being blocked on the one hand by evil that outrages a deep sense of justice and on the other by the violence of that sense of outrage which destroys his humanity — crucifixion upon the wicked cross, the Satanic tempter speaking with the voice of genuine righteous indignation.

Even as Aaron D’Aragon falls short of that recognition which constitutes the salvation of the tragic hero in the midst of destruction, recognition of our common human nature floods the reader with the conviction that in his very damnation, Aaron renews our faith in the human spirit.”  New American Review



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Book Reviews

"An extraordinarily evocative novel set on a California juvenile prison farm. One of the best and most important first novels published during the last ten years."

—Saturday Review of Literature

"Without peer . . . a work of genius, but because of its subject matter, a classic without a genre. Some books leave impressions; this book leaves scars."

—Andrew Vachss, Change, Justice Department Magazine

"A classical first novel. An ugly, beautiful, nauseating, terrifying, profound, disciplined exploration of the depth of the human heart."

—New American Review

"A masterwork."

—Forgotten Pages of American Literature

"Powerful and disturbing."

—Publishers Weekly

"A natural talent of tremendous strength."


"A work of art."

—Walter Van Tilburg Clark

"This is a savage novel and a work of art, a powerful, ugly, poetic, brilliant, compassionate rendering that even the squeamish should read because its important message rings loud and clear -- and unfortunately true."

—St. Louis Globe-Democrat

"This novel . . . . is a strange crucible. From its center we may pluck out a glowing ember of aspiration. If we can bear the intensity of the light, we may look into the flames and discover with what precious fuel we have fed these fires."

—Fred Cody, San Francisco Chronicle

Book Excerpt

At first Aaron’s struggle to remember his mother produced only a smear of pale skin on the transparent pane of glass in the small window slot of the door. He stared harder until he forced an image to appear on the glass, forced himself to see nets of fine wrinkles about deep green eyes, and saw, without forcing, nervous pencils of cigarette smoke streaming from thin nostrils, but also saw, although he didn’t want to, a stark frizz of damp black hair framing a swollen face, bloodless yellow from an enlarge d and dying heart; and he threw himself at it, to see past it.

The window slot was a palm wide, and even by standing on his toes, he could only see the upper half of the gray door opposite his, its empty window slot, which mirrored and mocked his attempts to see, his attempts to forget, and a giant burnt-out bulb on the hall ceiling, caged in wire.

The light which escaped through the slots into the hall was too dim to permit more than a guess at where other cell doors might be, and a hop in the air, with his finger tips hooked in the bottom ledge of his window slot, only allowed him a glimpse of the hardwood floor and the metal banister which guarded the edge of an empty stairwell.

He then turned and leaned against the door, his eyes watering from the strain of trying to see through the thick, smudged glass, his body lost in the wide skirt of the white woolen nightgown, his bare feet flat and cool on the hardwood; and he blinked away the wavering corners of his cell.

A barred and screened window on the outside wall filtered and thinned the gray daylight so severely that it darkened the gray woolen blanket on the bed and the gray walls. It blotted the shadows in the corners and erased the edges between the walls, between the walls and the ceiling, between the walls and the floor, between the walls and the baseboard, between the walls and the metal cot, between the metal cot and the metal radiator, between the cot frame and the cot blanket, between the cot frame and the cot legs, between the cot legs and the floor, between the boards of the floor, between the floor and the side wall, between the side wall and the ceiling, between the ceiling and the back wall, between the back wall and the window frame, between the window frame and the barred and screened window itself; and he leaped on the cot and bounded to the window, touched a bare toe to the radiator, balanced on it with one foot, and stared out.

But the window square of bars and wire screen limited his view to the top of the hill and the gray sky, and he jumped from the cot and ran to the door, but he could only see the opposite door and the caged and burn-out bulb; and he turned and stared at the walls, but their edges were blurred; and he leaped on the cot and bounded to the window again and leaned on the radiator and stared out once more…But he could only see a patch of scrub brush, and the screen and bars obscured that too badly, so he sat down on the cot.

The silence in the isolation cell rang in his ears. There was a sour taste in his dry mouth. He wiggled his toes and flattened his feet against the floor. He shook his head hard, and the damp curling hair fell into his eyes. He pushed it back by running his fingers through it. This gave the tips of his fingers a faint shine, and he started at his fingers until they were dull again. Then he stood and began to pace the narrow path between the cot and the wall. Then he measured the distance heel-to-toe from the door to the back wall and counted twelve bare feet. Then he guessed the distance of the cell’s width as six or seven bare feet. Then he stood on the cot and bounced and touched the ceiling with his fingers and guessed that it was eight feet high. Then he began to pace the narrow path between the cot and the wall again. He paced from the door and its window slot to the back wall. Then he paced from the back wall and its barred window to the door. Then he paced to the back wall. Then he paced to the door. Then he paced to the back wall. Then he paced to the door and stopped.  Then he paced to the back wall and stopped. Then he spun around so swiftly that his nightgown billowed but was stopped on his first step by the punishing sight of the cell door.

He was stopped by the cell door. He was stopped absolutely by the cell door. The cell door stopped him because the patrol car had stopped him. The patrol car had stopped him because its red dome of frightening light had stopped him, and had kept him from running by flashing the weird glow of panic over Barneyway’s smooth cheeks, over the cheeks of three other zoot-suited buddies, over the cheeks of the bloody-nosed kid they had slugged.