An abandoned Borscht Belt resort becomes an unlikely flashpoint in a tale of big business and PTSD.
Nicorvo’s lively, if at times overly busy, debut novel is an ensemble affair involving a land battle for the Standard Grande, a one-time Catskills getaway that Milton, a Vietnam vet, has turned into an alpaca farm/halfway house for vets with PTSD. That sounds like a good hiding place for Bellum, an Army deserter who can’t stomach leaving for her third deployment to Afghanistan. But Milton has debts and late-stage cancer, and a conglomerate called IRJ, Inc. is pondering a takeover of the land for fracking purposes. A pair of informal spies are conducting advance surveillance: Evangelína, a spitfire health nut and family friend of IRJ’s COO, and Ray, an Iraq vet who’s split with Milton but lives in a yurt near the camp. It takes a while for Nicorvo to get all these chess pieces in their appropriate positions, and he’s prone to overlong descriptions and gassy exchanges of military tough talk. But by midpoint, after a key character is mauled by a cougar near the Grande, the novel finds a solid groove, becoming a seamless blend of road-trip saga, love story, and critique of military contractors. Bellum is the best-drawn of the cast of characters, from her PTSD issues to her estranged, pill-slinging husband to her struggle to find solid footing as a deserter. (The novel suggests that those who turn themselves in are forgiven with relative speed.) As such, for all its convolutions, the novel is thematically a straightforward tale about finding a home: “Maybe the place to begin was to make one supportive relationship and go gradually upward and outward from there,” Bellum thinks, but Nicorvo smartly renders the legal, corporate, and military forces that can stand in the way of so simple a goal.
An ambitious novel that effectively braids corporate greed, outdoorsy grit, and human connection.