Dennis Lehane Books, 320 pages, $25.99
Ivy Pochoda re-creates the spit of land that is Red Hook, Brooklyn, by her own lights, in the same way John Steinbeck could bring a neighborhood to life, with all its tragedies and comedies, odd characters, interwoven relationships, and grace. She brings a playwright's sensibility to her book; her characters enter stage right, play their hour upon the stage, and exit left. Her present tense telling serves to intensify the characters' (and reader's) anxiety and need for resolution.
Val and June are 15-year-olds from the neighborhood. One hot summer night ("It's a hot night in a calendar of hot weeks."), they float away on a pink raft. Val is discovered on the shore early the next morning, barely alive. A massive hunt begins for June. Jonathan, a music teacher, is the person who found Val and brought her to the safety of the nearby convenience store run by Fadi, a Lebanese immigrant. Two of the last people to see Val and June the night before are Cree and Monique, former classmates. Val says she doesn't remember what happened. Because of what Val and June did, the lives of these characters will change.
As the hunt for June dwindles with the passing of the summer days, these characters are inhibited by their torpor, their sense of waiting for something to happen. Everyone has secrets and hopes that are heightened by June's continued absence. Although the pacing doesn't feel slow, Pochoda thoughtfully reveals her characters' stories drop by drop until the last few pages move rapidly along.
There's a sweetness and underlying optimism to most of the characters, despite the sorrows that they bear. Does the "visitation" of the title indicate a punishment for the sins, real or perceived, of the residents of Visitation Street, will they be touched by a divine hand and find their hearts' desire, are the ghosts of their past too stubborn to throw off, or is it their fate to finally mourn the dead?
This is the neighborhood the night of the disappearance:
Late summer smells hang in the air -- ripe sewers, cookouts, and the scent of stagnant water that lingers in Red Hook no matter the season. The night echoes with other people's noise, laughter falling from windows and the call-and-response of competing boom boxes.
Ivy Pochoda's book is sublime.
I am awarding this an MBTB star!