Book Review: Gravesend by William Boyle

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Sometimes I guess I am a little slow. because I just sat down to start writing this review of Gravesend and realized how many different ways the title works in respect to this novel. The most direct way the title works is the story is set in the Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn. I have never heard of Gravesend in Brooklyn and since the name sounds so ominous (especially for a place where people live) I decided to do some quick google research. Immediately when I reading about Gravesend and looking at pictures I though of the old heavily Jewish and Italian Brooklyn neighborhoods of the 1940’s and 1950’s with Gambino types and such. This era of Brooklyn and the 90’s hip hop era of Brooklyn were the eras in which I wished I lived in Brooklyn as a kid growing up in the bible belt.

Then you have the actual story, where you are brought into the lives of a few different families who are tied together from growing up in the neighborhood. One of the best parts about the book is how well-developed the characters are, Especially the two main characters Conway and Alessandra. Conway is a troubled man almost 30 becoming a 24 hour a day drinker working a dead-end job at Rite Aid. Conway , despite his desire, hasn’t escaped the neighborhood physically or mentally, and his life seems to be stunted by the death of his gay brother Duncan. Duncan was killed by running into traffic while trying to evade a  particularly aggressive homophobic bullying session by some kids lead by the neighborhood’s idol tough guy Ray Boy. Ray Boy is no longer the suave tough playboy he once was after doing a long stint in prison for the sort of “murder” of Duncan. Conway has been in his own prison of grief and alcoholism waiting for the day to execute his revenge on Ray Boy who he blames for needlessly ruining his family. Conway is taken aback by Ray Boys dramatic shift in personality but also at Ray Boy’s desire to die at the hands of Conway because he cannot forgive himself for what happened. The other main character is Alessandra who has just returned to Gravesend after a weak career as an actress in LA. Now that Alessandra is back in the neighborhood she has worked so hard to escape, she doesn’t really know what to do and is spending this time revisiting her old stomping grounds. Unfortunately it doesn’t take her long at all to get sucked back into the rut she was in before she left with the same people, places, and drama.

Gravesend is not just a neighborhood in this story but to me it is a metaphor for what is happening to the people’s lives (which you will have to read to get that good information) wether it be some of these characters literally being sent to their graves or just being emotionally buried under the weight of this part of New York City. The book is dark but its beautiful and its written in such an accessible way that you sometimes don’t even realize how fucked up the shit that is happening to these people really is. I loved this story and I will just chock this one up as another win for Broken River Books who consistently put out great noir crime fiction novels. They have released  11 or 12 books this year, 10 of which I own, 6 of which I have read and enjoyed very much. My instinct is to just devour all of their books at once but I have tried to pace myself…I look forward to reading more from WIlliam Boyle as well. Just go ahead and buy Gravesend, read it, and then pick up the rest of Broken River Books catalog. You wont be disappointed.

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