Monday, July 21, 2008

Off Topic---Novel: My Brooklyn, My Dad and My Life Stutter-Stepping Around the Mob

Heart of the Old Country, Tim McLoughlin, Akashic Books, 230 pages, $14.95.

McLoughlin, editor of the Brooklyn Noir series, delivers a fine tale. Set in Brooklyn with characters which are universal, the novel has many facets of humor and personal growth, tragedy and murder. Michael is a 20 year old Brooklyn native and is having trouble with his career/life/education/part-time fiancee. Both his father, Vinny, an sanitation worker on disability, and Michael drive for a car service/gypsy/jitney cab company that is tangentially connected to the local mob. Senior citizens are the primary riders but there are also mob chores.

Michael begins to cross the river for night school in Manhattan. Challenged by both the academic work and the personalities in the class room, he attempts to imagine a life in the world beyond Brooklyn and has trouble seeing it. Another driver/friend/junkie, Nicky, holds up a mob poker game. Michael is unexpectedly called upon to drive a killer to an alley where Nicky is set up for a hit. Afterwards, there is another special trip and Michael is in the middle of the theft of a knapsack travelling from a supplier to a dealer. Will Brooklyn let Michael leave if Michael wants to leave? He stutter steps through the mob, the fiancee, the widowed father, and at times his own 'reveal nothing to nobody not even yourself' attitude saves him and gets in the way of growing up.

The 'old country' is not Brooklyn but it is the father-son relationship. The author, who works in the Brooklyn court system, deals with Brooklyn male egos not in a Sopranos-type way but in a way that more resembles everyday life for everyday people in an American metropolitian neighborhood that is steeped in family and criminal traditions. In terms of genre, this is not a hard-boiled detective novel. The main characters aren't that caustically smart. But in terms of writing style, occasionally CWL's previous encounters with Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Ross Macdonald came to mind.

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