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Ivy Pochoda
Visitation Street

Dennis Lehane Books / Ecco / HarperCollins
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-062-24989-0
Publication Date: 07-09-2013
308 Pages; $25.99
Date Reviewed:08-14-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  Mystery  General Fiction  Horror  Fantasy  

From the first sentence, Ivy Pochoda's 'Visitation Street' transports the reader to a whole world — Red Hook, New York, in the present day — crafted with gorgeously detailed language. For all the grit and intense realism that Pochoda puts into her novel, there's an otherworldly feeling at work as well. This is not simply the world as it is — this is the world as we feel it.

'Visitation Street' is a remarkable, intense and compelling story that unfurls with the lazy ease of a late summer afternoon. June and Val are fifteen; June plays more the adult, while Val is holding back, holding on to their shared past. On a lark, they decide to take a trip on a raft out into the bay. The changes that follow, the lives that are spun in Pochoda's luminous prose, will ripple through readers' minds long after the book is finished.

Red Hook, New York, as conjured by Pochoda, is a world unto itself, a pocket of decay and pride, of poverty and just-making-ends-meet. Pochoda's prose is pitch-perfect, detailed when it needs to be, gritty and poetic. But it's also immersive and readable. She tells her story from the perspectives of a variety of characters; shop-owners, street kids, a musician with talent but not the ability to use it wisely, and Val, a smart girl who is not so keen on growing up as fast as the circumstances would like her to. Pochoda carefully differentiates the prose for each character, but unites them in the character of Red Hook itself. It's a memorable and enjoyable performance, and a joy to read.

Red Hook is also a major character in the novel, indeed, arguably the main character. Pochoda's vision is the result of careful world building; her descriptions are sensual in that they address all the senses. Pochoda is careful to stay on the right side of immersive writing; she never overplays her hand.

The people we meet in Pochoda's novel are as achingly realistic as the place they live. Part of the power of this novel is figuring out just who will prove to be important in the scheme of the book; there's more than a little plotting by character revelation. But as we get to know these people, Pochoda displays a gift for telling us just the right details to craft a character who feels like a whole person. There are no heroes or villains here, and nobody you might not meet if you walked these streets. Indeed, you'll find some of the characters you want to like making decisions you cannot like — and those bad choices prove to be the very glue that makes them whole. Pochoda creates a cast of characters who are real and always a joy to be around.

The story in 'Visitation Street' is both intense and atmospheric. Pochoda infuses her prose with a certain undercurrent of urgency and intensity, even when she is describing circumstances that seem languid. The fallout from the raft trip affects the entire neighborhood, which itself is in flux with the anticipated arrival of the Queen Mary. Pochoda's reach is quite intense, with reverberations in this world and perhaps the next. But even when she is describing the ineffable, Pochoda's prose has a grip that anchors her story in the world she has so meticulously crafted.

Novels have the capability to come to life in our minds like no other experience; the best become analogous to dreams and memories. 'Visitation Street' crosses that border easily. Ivy Pochoda builds a world as eerie and spirit-haunted as the one each of us must wake up in. From the solace of sleep, we build our lives anew, we build our dreams anew, and breathe life into the fragile hopes of a coming day. We haunt ourselves so easily, and those ghosts we conjure are not afraid of the light. We are.

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