Visitation Street opens in a steamy Brooklyn heat wave. Two fifteen year-old-girls decide to escape their stultifying boredom, floating off into the bay’s greasy waters on a bright pink inflatable raft watched by two young men. Only one girl returns, washed up under the pier and in bad shape. The rest of the novel explores the aftermath of June’s disappearance through the eyes of a neighbourhood divided by race and expectation, some hoping for a reversal of fortune others resigned to defeat.
Visitation Street runs through Red Hook at the bottom end of Brooklyn. The local bar is run by an ageing red head who regularly beds the reluctant Jonathan, a music teacher with a past and a part time job accompanying a drag queen. Fadi runs the Lebanese bodega ever hopeful for a brighter future, particularly now that cruise ships will be stopping in the bay, reaching out to the community with his daily news letter. Cree hopes for escape until his mother, still talking to his father murdered five years ago, suffers a stroke. Colourful murals tagged RunDown appear on the street. Fadi accepts help from a young black man who seems to be more educated than his appearance suggests. Cree finds evidence of someone else using his hideouts. And as the summer wears on Val, friendless and isolated, refuses to mourn June in the hope that it will bring her back.
With its cinematically vivid descriptions and strong characterisation, Visitation Street plays out like an HBO miniseries. Ivy Pochoda’s exploration of grief, hope and redemption is gripping and although it seems to have been categorised as a crime novel by everyone from Waterstone’s to the New York Times, perhaps because it’s published in the States under Dennis Lehane’s imprint, it doesn’t deserve to have its readership curtailed by pigeonholing. I’m not a crime reader but this one’s much more The Killing than Karin Slaughter.