SPARROW BEACH by Shelby  Raebeck


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A construction manager living on Long Island struggles to come to terms with change in his personal life and community in this novel.

Michael Dorian’s fortunes appear to be on the rise. Dorian Brothers Construction, the business that he manages with his sibling Willie, is landing ever larger contracts as wave after wave of gentrification buffets Long Island’s East End. Willie is a go-getter who studied business at college, drives a sports car, and seeks to forge a lucrative relationship with a wealthy New York developer. Michael, meanwhile, is an English literature graduate who returned home to help his brother build his business. Willie’s hunger frustrates him, and he much prefers to avoid fussy New York clients in favor of spending time with the workers. Michael’s home life is no less complicated. The novel opens with him sleeping separately from his wife, Vivvy, who has anxiety issues and is intent on building a new life for herself. Her plan for transformation involves her becoming gradually less involved with Michael and their teenage daughter, Tommy, an obsessive compulsive whose routine, troublemaking decisions often mean that she does not go to school. When Vivvy finally leaves Michael, he must take care of Tommy and also keep tabs on Willie, who proves to be far from a transparent business partner. Sparrow Beach is where Michael goes to surf and reflect, but this too is changing.

This is a tale about two oppositional mindsets, those who are content with what they have and those who strive for more. Rich New York clients are depicted as “mini-empire builders, spreading their dominion from the city to the end of the island.” This situation poses a direct threat to the way of life of current East End residents, who brace themselves for the influx of wealthy newcomers and the price hikes that will follow. Michael’s position is a precarious one, because his construction company is involved in facilitating an alteration that will ultimately cause the East End to no longer feel like home. Raebeck (Louse Point, 2017) is skilled in communicating the characters’ complex connections to Long Island (Michael and his wife “both loved the land and seascapes of the East End, and Vivvy added something beyond that, something beautiful and complicated that countered the provincial, second fiddle feel of the place”). It is intriguing to see how this link evolves throughout the story, with certain players clinging nostalgically to their former lives while others aggressively seek out the new. Raebeck’s prose captures how individuals and communities react to change. This cannot be described as urgent writing, but its ambling pace should not be mistaken as bland. The author takes time to develop detailed psychological portraits of his characters to the point that the inner sources of their reactions become understandable, if not always admirable. The result is a clever and highly readable novel that examines the impact of gentrification on civic, familial, and personal levels.

Intuitive, thoughtful writing in a shrewd revitalization tale.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-64237-144-4
Page count: 326pp
Publisher: Gatekeeper Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2018


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