Three decades ago, young Socrates Fortlow murdered a man and woman in cold blood with his huge "rock-breaking hands" while in a drunken rage. 27 years of hard time in an Indiana prison followed. Now he is out, living in a cramped two-room apartment in an abandoned building in Watts, scavenging bottles and delivering groceries for a supermarket. The tough, brooding ex-con is determined to understand the violence and anarchy in the world around him and in his own soul. A series of related stories make up this lyrical novel that explores the issues of morality, crime, poverty and racism through the eye of the most unforgettable character since Easy Rawlins.