Review – Loisaida by Marion Stein

15 Apr

Loisaida -- A New York StoryLoisaida — A New York Story by Marion Stein

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.

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10 Responses to “Review – Loisaida by Marion Stein”

  1. Marion April 15, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    Humbled. Grateful.
    You’re timing could not have been better. It’s been a rocky few weeks. Thank you.

  2. Neil Schiller April 15, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Marion, yes, I saw from your blog that it was probably a tough time. My condolences to you. At times like that there’s probably nothing I could say that wouldn’t end up sounding trite.

    But listen, please don’t thank me for the review. I thought your book was tremendous. Seriously impressive.

  3. James Everington April 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    Wow, high praise. Based on this review, I’ll be getting this. (Although Neil think you’re being a bit harsh on your own writing; but then, I think you have to be if you want to improve. That’s why I’d never worry that much if I got a bad review; no one is going to say anything anywhere near as critical about my writing as I say to myself on those days or long sleepless nights when I turn against it myself).

    Sorry, ended up talking about myself again.
    Off to check out Loisaida now.

    • Neil Schiller April 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      James, it’s a great book, I can highly recommend it. And yeah, I think you’re right, you have to be tough on your own work or you’ll never improve. I turn myself against everything I’ve written constantly. I like it, I hate it, I like it again, I despise it 😀 Sometimes it seems like borderline schizophrenia…

  4. James Everington April 15, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    Yeah, me too. Even my last posting on here now makes me cringe with shame.

    • Neil Schiller April 15, 2011 at 11:20 pm #

      Hahahah, I’m not THAT bad 😀 Having said that, I deliberately don’t read back over my Blog posts. Hit publish and forget about them…

  5. pete April 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    I must say that there is not the slightest bit of exaggeration in your assessment, Neil. It is exactly as you say it is. (My review on Amazon suggested that Marion’s descriptions would make Jimmy Breslin jealous.)

    • Neil Schiller April 16, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

      Thanks Pete. I framed the review really around opinions I’ve seen on forums about reviews for small press or indie authors and suspicion surrounding glowing reviews for these writers. I wanted to make it as clear as I could that I’m not a friend or family member of Marion, just that I genuinely think she’s written something outstanding here.

  6. Barbie Scott April 16, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    Sounds great – I’ll be checking this one out.

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