Sunday, June 22, 2014
Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
A Brooklyn girl goes missing
June and Val, fifteen year old Italian-American girls on the lower rungs of the social ladder, decide one night to take a child’s raft into the East River. Something happens on the water. Unconscious Val alone washes up on shore, rescued by the upper class drunk, Jonathan, the music teacher at the girls’ Catholic school. A teenage African American boy who watched and followed the girls floating down the river, Cree, becomes the chief suspect in June’s disappearance. Fadi, the immigrant who owns the local bodega, attempts to solve the mystery.
I admired this book, especially the beautiful prose, the many differently motivated characters and frankly the ambition to present such a large cross section of society (like a Victorian novel). It definitely reminded me of Richard Price’s Clockers, although here too many people and plot lines couldn’t fit into 300 pages, and the story eventually collapsed, hastened by a fatal insistence for tying everything up. The plot started veering away from the emotion. Is that a genre thing? Every mystery does not have to be solved. This book was marked as a detective story, but maybe it was actually a literary novel. I get down on a book two weeks ago because there isn't enough plot then I get down on this book because there too much plot. What I end up thinking is that it is very difficult to achieve the right balance between character and plot and the evocation of emotion.
Ghosts and ghostly voices wound their way through the story, figures from the past imprisoning the characters within the cultural and geographic boundaries of Red Hook. The three main characters all had a tragic back story, and a secret weighing them down. Those ghostly plotlines were a little bit more interesting than the question of who or what made June disappear. There were a couple of implausible romantic choices, and maybe too much of the shopkeeper, although he was the most fully realized character in the book. The black characters had a nobility thing going on which tended to push them into a two dimensional rather than a three dimensional shape. This book had a good start, but never quite lifted off.