novel, set in 1930s New York, the lives of three brothers diverge and
intertwine as each finds his own pathway to manhood.
Hess’ (Bergdorf Boys, 2011, etc.) latest work is a brutally dark, lyrical fairy tale in which three siblings pursue their respective journeys through life while finding their places within a shattered family. The story establishes its characters right away when eldest brother Dickie pushes youngest Adlai to the ground over a perceived slight. Middle brother Walt doesn’t respond, but Big Ed, a member of the Butchers, Dickie’s small-time Irish gang, finally intervenes. The sheer gravity of Dickie’s violent temperament drags all the brothers down with him. In an effort to go big-time with the Butchers, Dickie intrudes on a meeting between rival Italian mobsters and ends up shooting one of them. Later, he sends an Italian bagman packing by smashing a pickle jar on his head. These acts garner the attention of Frankie, a sharp-dressing mobster, who kidnaps Dickie, beats him to a pulp, and then offers him a job as a hit man, with the caveat that Dickie’s brothers must also work for him. Beautifully written, infused with symbolism and baptisms of blood, fire, and water, this tale shows each character reaching epiphanies in their separate journeys. Adlai, for example, is on the threshold of coming to terms with his homosexuality: “He was thinking almost like another person, an older person, a man from the future…he was aware of a newness coming through him.” Meanwhile, they all find love: Dickie meets his match in an African-American woman named Eva; would-be doctor Walt falls for Adriana, whose physician father despises him; and Adlai enters a dangerous but fulfilling relationship with another man. When Dickie’s plot to fix Walt’s romantic problems backfires, the family hides out in an upstate cabin, where their zombielike father, Pat, rises from the dead, taking charge. At once gritty, poetic, and romantic, Hess’ masterful, elegant style weaves these diverse elements into a seamless narrative that touches the heart of what it means to be human.
A compelling tale that’s a must for Hess’ fans and an excellent introduction for everyone else.