Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Assortment of Reads

Since I've been spending my time in the kinds of places without much to do, I've managed to read a book here and there. First was Prince of Fire, followed by The Messenger by Daniel Silva. In both Silva puts a different spin on the standard spy suspense genre. His main character is a fine art restorer/Israeli operative named Gabriel Allon. A reluctant assassin, Allon provides a vehicle to explore the corrosive effects of the Israeli/Arab conflict on those who wage it. Torn by what he has done in the name of duty, yet fully committed to fighting the evil of terrorism, haunted by the family he has lost, while reaching out tentatively at a new life, he is a fascinating character. Silva keeps up the pace throughout. I'm looking forward to the latest installment, Moscow Rules.

So I manage to sneak a half hour to go to the library when I spot a title in the stacks, Fresh Kills.
Now for the uninitiated, Fresh Kills is a wetland area in Staten Island, NY which in a supreme twist of irony became home to a landfill so large that it rivaled the Great Wall of China in visibility from outer space. My interest aroused, I pick up the volume and note the author, Bill Loehfelm. Wow, who'da thunk it? Billy Loehfelm published by Putnam. Of course, I turn it over only to find the grown up, head shaven and goateed young man who was once a student and later a teacher at my old stomping grounds. That the cover mentioned "gritty, blue collar Staten Island" just sealed the deal.

I don't know what I expected...I mean he was a smart kid, but.... Anyway, it starts out as a something of a modern noir but as his wise-cracking main character comes to terms with the death of an abusive father, it becomes something larger, harder, and better still, leaving it neither in one camp or the other. This novel tackles the kind of emotional contradictions those in dysfunctional families know well. I enjoyed it, if enjoyed is the word.

On a related note, he captures the essence of the Staten Island in which I grew up, much of it Irish and unostentatious, bordered by bohemian flair of the Northern fringe, and infused with the small town ethos just a hop, skip and jump away from the Big Apple. Those whose perception of the island is limited to Working Girl or MTV won't recognize the place. It is a place and time rapidly disappearing, which lingers in pockets if at all.

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