Monday, July 22, 2013

Visitation Street - The Brainiest Thriller You'll Read this Year

So who is Ivy Pochoda, you might ask. Why did Dennis Lehane take an interest in her and publish her second novel Visitation Street under the aegis of his new imprint for Harper Collins? In his sales pitch to booksellers and those of us bloggers and librarians who talk up books for a living, he called this book "an urban opera...filled with mystery, poetry, and pain." When Dennis Lehane speaks, those of us who have known him and his work from the get-go, sit up and take notice. If you happen to trust me, I'll tell you that this is the finest suspense novel I've read in a long, long time.

Ms. Pochoda's Harvard degree and oh yes, that MFA from Bennington, are on display on every page of Visitation Street. She writes in a tight, compact style that moves almost too quickly, so don't make the mistake of rushing through it. You just might miss something so beautiful, so heartbreaking, so perfectly pitched, that you'd have to, no, want to, return and read it again.

The storyline is a pretty simple one. Two antsy teens looking for something novel to do on a Saturday night in the hood, June and Val just want to break out a bit, get away from the same-old, same-old. They walk down to the pier and shove off into the East River on a bright pink raft. By morning, only Val is found, barely alive, washed up under the pilings.

I've never been to Red Hook in Brooklyn but I feel that I know it like the back of my hand. That's how good Ms. Pachoda is at giving life to the borough. Just across the river from Manhattan, Red Hook is more like anytown, USA. The Greek has his restaurant, the Lebanese, his grocery store. The Irish have the old bar where the longshoremen used to hang out and the blacks have the high rises. Without benefit of lawns and trees, they cultivate a communal garden in the park that separates them from the white families. But when someone dies or goes missing, the effect runs deep.

The girls have a friend named Cree, a young black man on the cusp. He could go either way, all he needs is a push in the right direction. A community college application sits unfinished on his desk, his mom communicates with the dead, spending her days sitting on the park bench where her husband Marcus, Cree's dad, was accidentally shot and killed six years ago.

Cree has a mysterious guardian who haunts the docks at night, painting graffiti on the shipping containers, store walls, and security grates, but mostly making sure that Cree doesn't get himself on the wrong side of the law. His cousin Monique has a glorious talent, her voice is that of an angel and though she calls out to Jesus in the Tabernacle Church on Sundays, she, too, could take a wrong turn any other day of the week. Like her aunt Gloria, Monique has the gift, but the only voice she hears is June's.

Each beautifully wrought character blazes off the page, fully human and thus, fully flawed. They hurt each other, they love each other, they flash with anger and rage at the dearth of opportunity, they long to venture out yet they belong where they've been planted. They are kind and hateful, loyal and fickle, they live and breathe and we, the readers, are so very fortunate to be in their midst.

I have written previously here about George Pelecanos, a novelist who I also found through Dennis Lehane, and one who kills me with his gritty, heartbreaking stories of guys trying so hard to break out of the cycle of crime that plagues young men, especially young black men, on the streets of our nation's capital. Ivy Pachoda is my new Pelecanos, but with one difference, a ray of hope. Grab a copy of this novel as quickly as you can. If you've already burned through it, I'd love to hear from you.


TooManyBooks said...

Visitation Street is on my list! Just wish I had more time to read. I got a letter from Good Reads that I'm in the top 1% of reviewers! Guess that's purely based on the number of books I've reviewed. Just wait 'til I retire!

Sallyb said...

You go girl. I supposed I should go there but, yikes! How would I go back and find all the books I've read and bring it up to date. Maybe some day when I'm bored? Ha!

Jessica said...

I've added it to my list! Am currently listening to "The Art Forger." by Shapiro. Have you read it yet?

Sallyb said...

Hi Jess, It's on my ipod right now. Will let you know what I think soon.