Review: Visitation Street

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By Ivy Pochoda; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman

Two 15-year-old girls, Val Marino and June Giatto, find themselves bored and at loose ends on a summer evening.

Too old to enjoy childish amusements, they are too young to hang out at Val’s older sister Rita’s beer and weed party. They decide to take a pink raft and float on the East River off the edge of Red Hook in Brooklyn where they live.

They carry the raft through a park where “girls in fluorescent clothes, wrapped tight like gifts, are clustered around the benches, bumping and dipping to the beats.”

They pass Cree James, who lives in the Projects and used to hang out with Rita until her parents put a stop to the relationship, sitting on his father’s abandoned boat.

Neither are great swimmers. They are unprepared for the inky, greasy, dirty water that they will have to use their hands to paddle through. They imagine they will float around the closest pier and two others and then get out on the little beach near Valentino Pier. A half an hour in the night.

For a time, Cree follows them on foot from the shore, thinking he’ll help them when they land. But the raft finds the currents and moves faster than Cree can.

By sunrise, Val is discovered, barely alive, under a pier by an insomniac drunk, Jonathan Sprouse. He recognizes Val from his music appreciation class at St. Bernadette’s Catholic Girls School.

The mystery of what happened that night on the water — and what happened to June is a current ebbing through this story to its end. (Val tells the police and her family that she has no memory of what happened.) But what drives this story is how June’s disappearance affects those left behind.

This isn’t a story of grieving families and friends. It’s a story of how Val’s and June’s risky adventure illuminates other characters’ fears and dreams, longing and courage and desire to set their lives on a new course.

Without June, Val has lost an ally as she heads into high school. She turns to Jonathan, who saved her once.

Jonathan’s life has been a bumpy downward slide from being a 12-year-old star in a Broadway flop to a music teacher to a pianist for a drag queen singer and writer of jingles for third-rate products. He may not know how to turn his life around, but he does know that Val doesn’t need an emotional attachment to a middle-aged drunk.

Cree got his love of boats from his murdered father. As the last person to see the two girls before they put their raft into the river, he’s come under the suspicion of the police.

He’s been accepted into a community college marine technology program, the first step toward his ideal future. But as a black kid from the projects with a mother who’s just ha a stroke, he’s struggling to reach for his dreams.

Pochoda paints a vivd picture of a complex community. Her characters and the choices lying ahead of them will haunt you long after you turn the last page.

The Author: Ivy Pochoda (1977 – )

VISITATION STREET is Ivy Pochoda’s second novel. It was the second title chosen by Dennis Lehane for his eponymous imprint.

Pochoda holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in classical Greek and English and American literature and a master’s of fine arts degree in fiction from Bennington College. She was the 2009 James Merrill House Writer in Residence.

Her first novel, THE ART OF DISAPPEARING, was published in 2009. VISITATION STREET was followed in 2017 by WONDER VALLEY, EPOCA — THE TREE OF ECROF in 2019 and THESE WOMEN IN 2020.

Her latest book, SING HER DOWN, began as a dare between herself and a friends at bar. Pochoda wondered if it would be possible to write a version of Cormac McCarthy’s violent western BLOOD MERIDAN with a woman protagonist

Pochoda was a professional squash player from 1998 to 2007. Her career-high world ranking was 38th in March 1999. While at Harvard she was individual national champion in 1998 and led Harvard to national championships in all four years that she was on the team. She was named ivy League Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year and was a four-time All-American and First Team all-Ivy during her college years. In 2013, she was inducted into the Harvard Hall of Fame.

Pochoda grew up in Brooklyn and currently lives in Los Angeles.

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