Minotaur Books, 320 pages, $15.99 (c2014)
There was a fleeting thought at the beginning of “Invisible City” that, ho hum, here was simply another book about an edgy, feisty young woman, trying to make her way in New York City. However, as the story unfolds, more unusual elements arise, and they make the story very different and very much worth reading.
Rebekah Roberts has been a stringer for a NYC tabloid newspaper for a few months. As the story opens, she is freezing outdoors as she waits for the body of a naked, bald woman to be lowered from a hoist in a scrapyard. The scrapyard is owned by a Hasidic Jew, and the dead woman is known to the owner. Special Hasidic attendants remove her body. As time passes, however, Rebekah wonders why there is no police investigation or autopsy. Eventually, a man named Saul Katz, who presents himself as a rogue cop possibly investigating corruption in the police department, wants to help Rebekah with her story if she will help him with his subrosa investigation.
Rebekah is a stranger to the Hasidic way of life, but nevertheless, a connection is revealed. Her mother, Aviva, came from the same community that apparently has made a murder (and murderer) disappear. Rebekah has not seen her mother since she was six months old. She has harbored anger towards both her absent mother and her forgiving father, and it manifests itself in a clinical case of anxiety.
What Julia Dahl does so well is give her readers a multi-layered look at a Hasidic community. Her depiction reveals the genesis of this tightly controlled Orthodox Jewish community, and the modern-day repercussions of traditions and orthodoxy rooted in an ancient past. Dahl also has created a complex character who is given an opportunity to perhaps forgive the woman who deserted her by understanding the forces that shaped her.