A burned-out college instructor reunites with his brother, falls in love and skirts the Mafia in a novel teetering on the border between thriller and family drama.
Loehfelm (Fresh Kills, 2008, etc.) finds in blue-collar Staten Island the sort of desolation Dennis Lehane mines in south Boston. He sees people leading desperate lives among “the weathered houses, crooked on wasted plots and afire with borrowed light.” Once a promising history instructor at Richmond City College, Kevin Curran now leans on old lesson plans and puts off grading papers. Kevin snaps to when brother Danny shows up after a three-year absence, claiming he’s beaten his heroin addiction. But Danny is hardly in the clear; he’s doing electronic spying and other errands for the owner of an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. Danny engages Kevin for one such errand, the gruesome disposal of some bodies in a landfill. For their efforts, the restaurant owner hands the men two envelopes, each stuffed with five Gs. Will Kevin follow the Mafia money trail or turn from his brother? Blood ties prevail, advises Kelsey Reyes, a colleague with whom Kevin becomes romantically linked. Her observation points a clear symbolic path to Bloodroot, the notorious Staten Island hospital where a quarter-century ago doctors subjected children, Danny perhaps among them, to inhuman physical and psychological abuse. Danny supports his boss, who wants the Bloodroot site turned into a public park; the project would generate lucrative construction contracts. But Kevin’s dean wants the shuttered facility turned into a museum. Danny enlists Kevin to block the dean’s effort by hacking into his computer files as this portrait of fraternal bonds moves to a forced action climax. Despite Loehfelm’s earnest gestures towards Deeper Meaning, not to mention a decidedly grim ending, this dark tale lacks the impact of tragedy. Characters are defined by little more than their basic conflicts and objectives, and passages of sharp, sensate prose too often give way to flat, overwrought writing.
Promising, though uneven.