THE NATION BY THE RIVER by Gabe Galambos

THE NATION BY THE RIVER

KIRKUS REVIEW

In Galambos’ novel, 13-year-old Michael Costa uncovers deep secrets about his family and hometown during a summer spent digging holes, literal and metaphorical.

Michael has always known that there was something peculiar about his small hometown of Best Harbor, Mass.—sure, everyone attends the local Roman Catholic church on Sunday, but why do those from his part of town, the Spit, not take Communion? Why do Spitters all have kitchens in the basement where the women prepare special Friday-night dinners? Why does Best Harbor bear an aura of deep paranoia and suspicion? When L.T. Haymaker—“L.T.” stands for “Lost Tribe,” as in the Lost Tribes of Israel—moves to town with his anthropologist mother and inspires his new best friend to follow him in digging for the treasure of 16th-century Portuguese explorer Miguel Cortereal, the answers to Michael’s questions slowly surface, but is Michael willing to accept them? Galambos (Stealing Pike’s Peak, 2000) uses a coming-of-age plot structure to investigate the mind-set of a community of deeply closeted Crypto-Jews who, half a millennium after the Inquisition, still hide their Jewishness under a thick veneer of Catholicism. Michael’s first-person narration is distinctive; he describes his neighbors attending a fado performance, for instance, as “Misfits, misfits and losers, those strange misfit losers only wanted to watch, watch without so much as ever letting themselves get watched, lest they be seen, I guess, seen as human, seen as human even if only of the misfit kind.” Such Ginsbergian riffs run through the story, as Michael, L.T. and their pals dig holes, then watch through the night to try to catch whoever is filling them up. The plot’s reach, however, is limited: L.T. wishes he were Jewish, and Michael discovers things about his own identity, but Michael doesn’t really understand why it’s all such a big secret. And indeed, it’s a little unclear why residents in a New England town still live in such terror of the Inquisition. The quest for Cortereal’s treasure falls off and instead the narrative examines the nature of secrets and holes: How do you define something by its nothingness, by its not-telling? A question one could ask of this novel.

A hard-to-categorize novel that will appeal most to readers who value voice over plot or who have a particular interest in Crypto-Jews.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 9780988257917
Page count: 328pp
Publisher: Garnet Star Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
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