This book by a young Dennis Lehane protégé socked me in the gut. It is about a small tragedy in a depressed and ramshackle corner of Brooklyn, which has reverberations that reach deep into the ethnically mixed population of Red Hook and teaches them—and us, the reader– about loss, grief, redemption and hope.
It is a sultry summer night, the bars and street corners are hopping, and teen friends Valerie and June are bored and antsy. They decide to go for a midnight float on a rubber raft off the docks, but get caught in a current and pulled under. Val is washed ashore barely alive, but June is never seen again. A young black teen named Cree, with dreams of getting out from under and going to college, is walking the shore when he spots the raft and tries to follow it on foot but gives up when it passes out of sight. High school music teacher Jonathan, with a dark secret, a failed Julliard career in his background and a serious alcohol problem, spots the unconscious June and carries her to a welcoming neighborhood bodega for help, forging a tragic sort of bond with the young girl. Ren, an unknown young black man, was watching Cree and saw it all. He steps in and out of the unfolding story, bringing his art, his smarts, and his mystery wherever he goes.
Strains of Lehane’s own writing style come through this novel: in a Red Hook portrayed with sights and smells and textures real enough to make you feel you are standing on its streets; in characters who are neither heroes nor villains, but just people subject to all the real life stresses that grind us all down; in a time where despair and hope are meted out in equal measure and everyone is just struggling to stay afloat and, perhaps, to come out ahead. It has a touch of classical Greek tragedy ….and it has a ghost.
There are some weaknesses in this early novel of Pochoda’s, but her story carries us along like the tide, with an ending that is neither happy nor sad, just real.