Friday, November 15, 2013

Review of Outerborough Blues by Andrew Cotto (Ig Publishing, 2012)

Caesar Stiles grew up in a New Jersey town, playing on the railway tracks, protected from his violent father and combustible elder brother by his mother and Angie, the middle son.  When Angie was sucked under a train, Caesar, aged fifteen, ran away to drift across the country.  Eventually he returned to take care of his dying mother, his father long gone, his elder brother in prison.  After she’d passed away he boards up the house and moves to Brooklyn, buying a house in a poor, African-American neighbourhood restoring the property and working as a chef in a local bar.  His life seems to be finding a balance, then a young French girl asks him to find her missing brother, his own brother is released from prison and shows up wanting to settle an old family score, and two local developers start to tussle over his street and its gentrified potential.  Whilst he hunts for the French man, his life starts to unwind, threatening to spin out of control as his past finally seems to catch up with him.

The strength of Outerborough Blues is its strong sense of place, deeply fleshed out characterisation, social realism, and its poetic narrative.  It’s a kind of literary urban noir, full of subtext and allusion. Caesar Stiles is a compelling character with a colourful back story that is metered out over the course of the tale, and is surrounded by other well penned and distinctive characters.  Cotto vividly places the reader in Stiles world, especially the landscape of gentrifying Brooklyn, and its oddities, rhythms and gatherings.  The prose is wonderfully rich and engaging. The plot, for the most part works well, though it becomes a little complex and confusing at points as Cotto intertwines a number of different threads.  This does not though detract the pleasure in reading the book, however.  Overall an evocative and thoughtful story about trauma, home and finding oneself.

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