The city is burning indeed in New Yorker contributor Platzer’s debut novel, sometimes with fire and sometimes with much-compounded shame.
Aaron was once a rabbi, at least until he got caught with his hand in the synagogue's bank account, desperately trying to settle a gambling debt that involved organized crime, death threats, and suchlike mishegoss. Now, supposedly on the straight and narrow, though filled with epic doubts—“Belief had never been at the core of his rabbinical path,” Platzer writes, though Aaron is fully certain of an inner rottenness that has kept God from stepping in on his behalf—he is the father of a baby son born to his girlfriend, Amelia, who writes service journalism pieces well below her capabilities. As the book opens, Aaron, now an investment banker, is contemplating just how fortunate he is to have found his way to this place—this place in life, that is, but also Bed-Stuy, in a beautiful home with nice neighbors. Others are not so lucky: a 12-year-old African-American boy is slain by a police officer in a nearby park, an event all too close to real life for so many citizens of Brooklyn and other cities. As protests and upheaval shake the streets, Amelia is called down for white privilege, Aaron gets caught up between cops and kids, and their carefully reconstructed life threatens to fall apart. Platzer is very good at doling out details of Aaron’s tightly wound character and Amelia’s reciprocal doubts, finding redemptions for both that, though not unlikely, do have a certain deus ex machina feel, given the distances each has to travel. In a story tinged with biblical allegory, Platzer also serves up some delicious set pieces for his supporting players. One of the best of them involves a young black woman recently escaped from arrest at an anti-police demonstration and wandering from store to store in the neighborhood trying to cash an improbably large check that she’s come into. (And therein hangs a tale.) She can’t, less because of the broken handcuffs trailing from her wrists than because she doesn’t have proper ID. Notes a bemused clerk, “And they tell me gentrification isn’t changing the neighborhood!”
Expertly paced, eminently readable, and a promising start.