The Palm Latitudes of Kate Braverman's passionate new novel are those hot, steamy places to the south where the sun is insolent and cactuses and banyan trees and palms flourish in the heavy, perfumed air. The colors here are intense - tropic greens and hot, riotous pinks and reds. Emotions, too, tend to run quickly to the violent and extreme. Writing in lush, sensuous prose, Ms. Braverman conjures up Mexico City, ''where the air was dense and chaotic,'' where ''the smell of an eradicated civilization'' casts a lingering curse. She conjures up Miami, ''an alien and insignificant city where even the seasons were indistinct,'' and Las Vegas, that ''outrage of neon,'' a ''demonic calligraphy imposed upon a sleeping desert, a region quiet as the moon.''
Most insistently of all, she conjures up Los Angeles, the City of Angels, where fires burn in the hills and ash falls from the sky, a city (in her telling) waiting for apocalypse: ''This city which was once an outpost of Spain and once a region of Mexico. This city webbed with boulevards bearing the names of Spanish psychotics and saints. This incomplete city which seems to have no recognizable past, no ground that could be called unassailably sacred. This incomplete city that speaks of an impending terror.''
If the Los Angeles of ''Palm Latitudes'' owes something to the cities described by Nathanael West, Raymond Chandler and Joan Didion, it still emerges as a wholly distinctive world. Ms. Braverman has focused not on Hollywood or the seedy film noir world of the disaffected, but on the barrio in East Los Angeles where Chicanos and newly arrived immigrants struggle to reconcile their memories of older traditions and simpler values with the seductive promises of the American dream. More specifically, she has focused on Flores Street, and the lives of three women whose fates will intersect.