Visitation Street is the second book published under Dennis Lehane’s new imprint at Harper Collins. My feeling: if it’s good enough for Dennis, it’s good enough for me. That can be a dangerous philosophy but in this particular case, it worked quite well. I don’t think I’m ruining anything by saying that two fifteen year old girls take a rubber raft out on the bay at the end of Red Hook in Brooklyn and only one comes back.
Is there a mystery? Sure. But is that what makes this story so good? Not at all. Ms. Pochoda has explored a way of life; the life in Red Hook through several characters that interact with and have an impact on Valerie, the girl who returns. Through these characters, Ms. Pochoda portrays the evident racial divide in Red Hook, the secrets that people hold inside and the reasons for their actions, and the yearnings that they have for a life different than the one they’re living.
As in life, some of the characters are sad examples of what we do to ourselves, some striving for better and some are just so lost.
I started reading this book in fits and starts but that wasn’t doing it justice. When I finally had time to sit and really read, I got sucked in big-time. I didn’t want to put this book down. I suggest that you do the same…find a length of time to read.
Ms. Pochoda can certainly turn a phrase. For instance, describing what a summer’s night in Red Hook is like, “It’s a hot night in a calendar of hot weeks.” Describing a ceiling in the projects, “He opens his eyes to the water map on the ceiling, the brown and yellow bubbles tracing the pathways of his upstairs neighbor’s leaky plumbing.” Or describing Valerie at the entrance to the Tabernacle Church, “They take in her uniform and her lanky frame–her pale skin and unremarkable hair. A drab piece of flotsam lost in a sea of Sunday color.” To me, that’s good writing.
My only criticism, and it’s minor. There’s a small map of Red Hook at the beginning of the book. I figured that bigger is better so I did an internet search for a street map of Red Hook. However, with the map in hand, I still couldn’t quite grasp which way the characters were going and what was where in Red Hook. Was it important? Probably not, but as an anal-retentive, and since the book was equally about the place as well as the characters, I wanted to get the entire experience. Don’t let this bog you down, though.
As an aside: I didn’t realize that I travel through Red Hook when I go visit the kids in Brooklyn. Who woulda thunk?