My review of Bloodroot by Bill Loehfelm

Bloodroot by Bill Loehfelm
Putnam, September 2009, $25.95, hardcover
A novel by the author of Fresh Kills

How “at home” can a novel feel? For me and Bloodroot… right at home.

And not because of the content. This is a story about two brothers and their turbulent relationship, some high stakes mob activity, with a dash of drug use, mixed all together and set to boil. No, I feel right at home because author Bill Loehfelm’s setting is on the streets where I grew up—Staten Island. And coincidentally where he grew up as well.

Now I know what you’re saying, “Staten Island? What kind of a setting is that?” To many it is the forgotten borough, but it has charm, and for this story it was the perfect setting. Mind you, this is not a book about Staten Island—it just happens to take place there. And I would have been able to call “bullshit” if the author was calling it in.

But this second outing by the winner of the Amazon New Discovery Award for his first novel, Fresh Kills [also a real location on SI], knows his shit. He gets it right. The sleepy suburb is brought to life by it’s shady characters, and every street from Richmond Avenue to Hylan Boulevard is right on. Every hangout from the Red Spot to The Cargo Café is perfectly recreated. I felt like I was back in the borough where I used to live avoiding shady characters and hanging out at Midland Beach. [Ok, Queens isn’t that far away. And Loehfelm has since settled in New Orleans.]

So in the story when when Kevin Curran, a school teacher, realizes that his brother Danny is loosing a long battle with addiction, Kevin thinks he’s never going to see him again. Then, three years later…

Danny is back and he’s not the same. He’s cleaned himself up, and is hanging out with a serious crowd. A big goon from high school in fact named Al Bruno is now Danny’s partner-in-crime… literally.

Can Kevin save his brother from the dangers of his new profession, and save their relationship in the meantime? Plus, can he keep his job while avoiding the strange goings on at the Bloodroot Hospital for Children, that is all somehow tied into all the crazy shit going on in his life?

With pacing reminiscent of Fight Club, Loehfelm brings to life the thuggish guys of my youth and breathes life into the suburb-meets-city feel of Staten Island with all the twisting roads, ridiculously wealthy houses, and local hangouts.

I’d recommend this book to my best buddies because not only does it draw upon bits of a communal experience (at least for us New Yorkers who grew up in the outer boroughs), but also its great story of an ordinary guy thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Anyone can appreciate it.

The dark places where I used to be afraid to go while wandering around as a teenager are exactly the places he goes in Bloodroot.

How much does the author take from real life and how much does he make up? I couldn’t say. But don’t we all draw from life when we write? It all mixes together with the imagination, and he isn’t claiming this to be a memoir, so there you go. Where it all came from doesn’t concern me, even if one thug is an exact reproduction of a guy I went to high school with. It just makes it all the more real. And a damn good read.

Suddenly I’m craving a good slice of pizza.

1 comment:

Megan said...

Well put! It's on my list, thanks!

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