Chances are you haven’t heard of Angel Loves Nobody. I hadn’t when I stumbled upon it at a book sale a few years back. But the description on the cover caught my eye...
“In the locker rooms, in the parking lots, a brilliant student plans his ultimate protest: kill the faculty of Betsy Ross Junior High.”
Considering the paranoia and cautious preventative measures taken after the tragedy of Columbine High School, as well as the number of school shootings since then, you would think a book of this nature would gain a small resurgence of attention. Considering the way the subject matter is handled by the author, the fact that it didn’t borders on a tragedy all its own.
Richard Miles is actually the pen name of Gerald Perrau-Saussine. Born in Tokyo and raised in Los Angeles, he spent his early years as a successful child actor (under the name of Peter of Richard Miles), appearing in films such as Passage to Marseille and The Red Pony, and TV shows including Maverick, Perry Mason, and The Lone Ranger.
In between his childhood acting and his adult career as an educator, Gerald Perrau-Saussine took a brief shot at being a novelist. In the short span of ten years he wrote poems, short stories, and three novels. Two of those novels, Angel Loves Nobody and That Cold Day in the Park, won the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award. That Cold Day in the Park was later adapted into a film directed by Robert Altman. His third book, The Moonbathers, was briefly received.
It is obvious when reading Angel Loves Nobody that Perrau-Saussine was inspired and informed by his experiences as both a student and teacher in the lower-class educational system. He spends an equal amount of time with both sides, exploring not only the origins of their motivation, but in some instances, the frailties of their beliefs.
In the book, Tim Nielson is the new art teacher at Betsy Ross Junior High, a ghetto school with a poor reputation. Mostly poor minority students, many of the kids are troubled youth, almost as convinced of their lack of a future as the bitter and jaded teaching staff. He’s picked a bad time to start his new career, however. One of the school’s most brilliant yet troubled students, Angel Martine, has found a focus for both his intelligence and his inner rage. He has figured out a way to kill the entire staff of Betsy Ross Junior High and get away with it, and has enlisted the entire student body as foot soldiers in his deadly vision. But Angel’s plan is as intricate and delicate as the lives and relationships of those involved. As “Zero Hour” grows near, the reality of the plan takes its toll, exposing many students to hidden emotions and desires they had previously been ignorant of.
This is a long way from The Cross and the Switchblade. None of the characters are simple plot devices or paper thin stereotypes. Many of the troubled teens are dealing with the harsh realities of inner-city life, compounded by indifferent and even hostile home environments (the existence of incestuous abuse and peer rape is examined on more than one occasion). As for the teachers, their indifference and occasionally hostile behavior is not due to overt malice, but to the personal demons they face in their own lives.
One of the most interesting dynamics in the story is the relationship between Angel and Tim. These two characters barely communicate until the book’s climax, but these two intelligent people from different worlds see something in each other. What they see evolves with the story, and their reactions actually manage to influence each other’s opinions. These are complex characters battling complex emotions, and their inner struggles spill effortlessly onto the page. Perrau-Saussine handles the myriad of characters with this level of detail and intensity, continuously reminding the reader that these are real people with real problems, the real solutions to which never come easy.
Angel Loves Nobody is as relevant today as it was in 1967, and is in desperate need of reprinting. Writing of this caliber, and this heartfelt, should never fade with time.