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Monday, December 16, 2013

Visitation Street: A Novel

Anything that is recommended by Dennis Lehane I pick up immediately. Hence my rush to read Ivy Pochoda's highly recommended Visitation Street.

One hot summer night, Val and June take a raft out in the bay next to their Red Hook neighborhood. The next morning, a local teacher finds Val under the dock barely alive. June, however, is nowhere in sight. What happened out on the water? Where is June, and is she even alive? How could this happen in their own community? This mystery sets the tone for an examination of two Red Hooks and the community members that call this neighborhood home--who they are, what they do, and how they inform each other.

This book felt as dark as the bottom of the water; the mood which which Pachoda left me was palpable and thorough, weaving through my inner being like tunnel slowly filling with the tide. It was quite amazing, really; to have that deep, dark, midnight blue pervading her prose as an ever-present reminder of how quickly innocence is lost. By the time you get to the end of the soul-searching narrative, you find that it ultimately doesn't matter what happened on the water that night--and it's only when you accept that the "what" doesn't matter that you find out the "why" of the whole story. It matters. It really does.

It is only when you take a step back do you realize that the sinister motives you seek in events are within your own walls. I thought this book was so honest in its portrayal of two versions of the same neighborhood; there is Visitation Street, where the middle-class folks life, and there are the projects, where drugs are ubiquitous and violence is ignored. How easily children move between these two worlds, and how far away the adults are from one another.

The summer of the events in question is one that will change so many lives. Cree, a young man who lost his father to violence at a young age, hopes to head off to college when his mother is stymied by her own body. Val deals with her memories of what happened on the water and the ghost of June yelling in her ear. Fadi runs his deli, helps out a shadow of a boy, and pins his high hopes on the incoming cruise ships. Jonathan teaches music while dealing with his own secret regarding his mother's death. The summer brings them together and forces their searching for themselves both with and through others.

So, yeah, I loved this book. I loved how dark and soul-searching it was and how it made me question what I believe about humanity. I believe there is an answer for everything, and even if it's crazy to you it makes sense to someone else. (That's the psychologist in me.) I loved the depth of Pachoda's writing and her willingness to give it all to her characters.

Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

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