My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In a moment, I’m going to say a couple of things about this book that you may or may not believe. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to say them anyway because I’m convinced they are true. We’ll get to that though…
I initially bought this book as a present for someone else. I had no intention of reading it because I thought it was simply a bargain price thriller. Having poked around the Amazon forums for a few months, however, I started to see references to Loisaida which made me think that, actually, there was more to the book than I’d initially assumed. So eventually I gave it go. I read the first couple of chapters and thought I’d maybe misjudged as it came across as a well written, but rather straightforward crime story. However, I then hit chapter three and suddenly it opened out into this unbelievable range of voices, a cast of characters so authentic and distinct from each other that it is hard to believe they were all conceived and written by the same person. There are artisans, junkies, ex-cons, and amidst them all a TV actor trying to become a journalist and searching for his breakthrough story on the lower East side.
There are a lot of characters and you will have to make some effort in keeping up, but believe me when I say it’s worth that effort. In the hands of a lesser writer the different voices would have been in danger of becoming a cacophony, but Marion Stein manages to make them harmonise, with narrative overlaps that never leave you wondering what’s going on. The New York on display here is reminiscent of that of Arthur Nersesian, Jay McInerney, Hubert Selby Jr. It’s rich and evocative and gripping.
Ok, here’s my bombshell. I mentioned a couple of authors above. On the evidence of this book, I think Marion Stein is certainly as good as, if not better, than all of them. I know that’s a big claim when you consider I mentioned Hubert Selby, but I stand by it. All I can say is I enjoyed this book more than ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’, I enjoyed it more than ‘Song of the Silent Snow’. There was a vibrancy to the characters in this novel that, in my opinion, Selby never quite matches. I would go so far as to say that if this book had been written twenty years ago, it would now be talked of as a cult classic. It is truly, truly stunning. As I said, you might not believe me, in which case I suggest you try the book and then come back and attempt to tell me why I’m wrong. I’m willing to bet you won’t convince me. A tremendous piece of work.
What I didn’t say in my review because I didn’t think it was appropriate is that this book depressed me greatly. Not in terms of content, but because it is just SO good it made me reassess the work I’ve put out. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but despite the quality of all the good indie work I’ve read so far I’ve been relatively happy that mine can at least hold its head up with them. This is something else though – it’s in a different league. To use a footballing metaphor, it makes me feel like a Championship player pushing for a play-off place alongside a Premier League star. Which is not a bad thing I suppose: it will probably just make me want to up my game. But what a book this is. If I ever needed convincing there were great authors going it alone, I certainly don’t anymore.