Monday, April 16, 2018

GRAVESEND by William Boyle

I've heard many people refer to New York City as a "small town disguised as a big city." This novel really touches on that theme as we watch our main characters constantly circle each other as they all navigate their Brooklyn neighborhood and try not to get sucked under by it's pull of family and past sins. The novel has the soul of Pelecanos's best but with the nihilism of David Goodis at his most downhearted. It's definitely one of the more depressing novels I've read, with some scenes coming close to making me cry because of the sheer disappointment and desperation that the characters feel as well as the actions they take to escape their situations. It's a violent book, but not in guns, blood, and guts kind of a way, but it's an emotional violence that turned out to be even more affecting and relatable. A constant theme in Gravesend is mistaken perception and how that's wrecked by the truth. Whether it's in the way everyone has viewed Ray Boy Calabrese as one thing once he gets out of prison but he's actually something else, or the way Conway believes that he's capable of vengeance, but in truth he's just a coward, or the way that people see Alessandra as this beautiful actress who found success in Hollywood and has it all figured out but in truth it's just the opposite; every character gets a rude awakening that shatters that perception.

It's a slow novel that is heavy on character, but it's all told through Boyle's sharp, direct gaze that feels full of honesty and compassion. It was previously released by Broken River Books (the version I read) but is seeing a re-release in hardcover from Pegasus Books later this year.


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