CORNELIUS SKY by Timothy Brandoff


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A doorman in 1970s New York City makes a series of bad decisions regarding his livelihood, family, and sobriety.

The title character, also known as Connie, has a contrarian streak and a penchant for heavy drinking—both among the reasons he has difficulty holding down a job and why his wife has kicked him out of their home. Connie drifts in and out of various bars, as well as his place of employment, a posh Fifth Avenue building, having halting and philosophical conversations with people he encounters. Brandoff writes precisely about Connie’s mental state and lucidity: “His Rolodex of drunks included full-blown blackouts, wherein days and, in a handful of cases, weeks of the calendar got recessed for good, but more generally he browned out.” Eventually, Brandoff reveals that Connie’s father committed suicide in a way that also killed Connie’s younger brother. It’s a detail that helps explain why Connie feels compelled to numb himself and why his connections to his loved ones oscillate between tenderness and something more bitter. Certain details reinforce themes of dysfunctional families: Connie takes in a production of Eugene O'Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten, and he befriends the 13-year-old son of a deceased former president who bears more than a passing resemblance to John F. Kennedy Jr. and is one of the tenants of the building where he works. But the presence of celebrity in this narrative never clicks with its focus on Connie, making for some awkward tonal shifts. When Brandoff focuses on the details of New York City life, he establishes an atmospheric, lived-in quality. But a tendency to sum up certain descriptions too neatly leaves some passages feeling heavy-handed.

Brandoff’s debut novel has a few dissonant moments, but its detailed portrait of a self-destructive character retains a haunting power.

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-61775-708-2
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Akashic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2019


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