An emotionally rich debut novel about family dynamics in the wake of tragedy.
If Staten Island were Asbury Park, this former lawyer–turned-novelist could be its literary Springsteen. He was born and raised in the borough, which one of his characters calls “the servants’ quarters of the city,” and he has a deep affinity for the ethnic assimilations, class struggles, marital discontents and larger ambitions of those who share his roots. Though the novel flirts with sentimentality and occasionally succumbs to cliché, depth of character trumps plot melodrama here. In the seven days leading to the birthday of Bobby Jr., the son of a firefighter who was a casualty of 9/11, every member of the family has flashbacks and reminiscences that suggest the variety of knots the plot must untangle. Bobby Sr. became a firefighter like his father, Michael, who strongly resisted becoming a butcher like his own immigrant father, thus depriving his family of some security. Gail continues to resent her husband and mourn her son 10 years after his death. She has little relationship with her oldest son, Peter, the one who escaped the borough to become a successful lawyer and marry a WASP but who will find his life crumbling through the most conventional of complications. Middle son Franky is the family’s black sheep, an alcoholic who's never been the same since his brother died. And Bobby’s widow, Tina, with whom Gail is very close, has finally become involved with another man, introduced to her by Peter, and she wants to bring him to Bobby Jr.’s birthday party. Will Franky cause a drunken scene? Will Gail be civil? Will Peter reconcile with his family?
The novel unpacks a lot of emotional baggage (even without the
9/11 references), but readers will get to know these characters and care about
them to the very last page.