Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
A Dennis Lehane Book/Ecco/Harper Collins, $25.99, 304 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-224989-0
Across from lower Manhattan, on the eastern shore, at the mouth of the East River, is a run-down area of abandoned warehouses, discarded, dilapidated piers and muddy salt flat marshes that look out on the Buttermilk Channel, Governor’s Island, Ellis, Liberty and Staten Island, the upper bay, as well as the New Jersey shoreline and the Statue of Liberty. It’s called Red Hook. It’s the toughest part of Brooklyn, sitting on a promontory that time has passed by. It’s an area that runs the socio-economic spectrum, from pioneering yuppies and developers intent on gentrification, to hard-boiled middle class working types who’ve lived in the area for a generation or more, to the disadvantaged who live in huge public works projects and collect public assistance in order to exist. Red Hook is where this week’s MBR number 120, takes place, it’s title is Visitation Street, by Ivy Pochoda. It’s hot mid-summer and two bored fifteen year old girls named Val and June, leave their home on Visitation Street “One of the nice, tree lined streets in Red Hook,” in their shorts and tube tops, carrying a small pink plastic raft, intent on cooling off by sailing in the New York Bay . . . ignorant of, or perhaps ignoring the strong riptides and vicious currents from the East and Hudson Rivers. A short while after launching their flimsy craft and paddling out with their hands . . . the girls disappear. The next day, only Val is found, near death under a bridge, where she washes ashore. June is missing. Her disappearance affects the whole area, and the novel unfolds like a time-lapse photograph of a flower blooming, as seen through the eyes of Val, who’s devastated by June’s disappearance; Cree, an innocent black kid from the projects who becomes a suspect; Fadi, a Lebanese bodega owner who’s writing a neighborhood newspaper giving the local’s opinions, gossip and rumors; as well as several other minor characters like the drunk music teacher who found and saved Val. The book contains elegiac prose, thoughtful insights and a dynamic, well-paced plot that gradually spools into a surprise ending. I can see why Dennis Lehane, an author who maintains the highest personal standards in his writings, put his name on it. This is a novel to savor and enjoy over a few cold and wet fall afternoons and evenings. Ivy Pocoda is a great young author with a lot of tales yet to write. I think she’ll have a long and storied career.