For some American fiction writers, Los Angeles has for a long time now been thought of as providing a definitive opportunity to describe uprooted characters struggling to survive humanely amid a geography of asphalt, aluminum and glass, made all the more deadening by the notorious blanket of smog. In her second work of fiction, the poet and novelist Kate Braverman plunges us into this world with savage intensity, giving us portraits of three Chicana women who live on Flores Street in a barrio of East Los Angeles.
Their lives are depicted as symptomatic of the final destiny of all women condemned to live in what the author calls the ''palm latitudes,'' stretching ''from Mexico City and El Salvador, through Havana and Miami, across the islands of the Caribbean, from Caracas to Los Angeles. It is that particular air of slow rotting, that special scented steaming poison masquerading as emeralds, spice, clouds.'' These latitudes are a specifically Hispanic province of the planet. In this still heavily macho world, Ms. Braverman's Francisca Ramos, Gloria Hernandez and Marta Ortega share illusions related to the varying fidelity and reliability of their respective lovers or husbands, Ramon, Miguel and Salvador, among others. But since these men fall away from their cultural heritage (and for many other reasons fail as people), they lurk throughout ''Palm Latitudes'' as shadowy and sometimes treacherous good-for-nothings.