Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Reivew: What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux


A middle aged American teaching history in Bulgaria hooks up with a young hustler, Mitko, in a public restroom, and he pays Mitko for sex. The teacher finds himself drawn again and again to Mitko over the following months, until he is ensnared in a relationship where lust leads to pain and resentment, feelings are one-sided, and each new tenderness comes with a higher price. 

What Belongs to You is an exquisite debut novel of middle-aged desire and its consequences. About reaching for something that you can never really possess. It is a story about how our needs, our scars, and our shame shape who we love, but more importantly, who we are.

At first, this novel seemed like a cliché setup I’d read many, many times. And indeed the plot is well-worn.  However, the prose has such lyric intensity and the story holds such staggering eroticism without becoming erotica, that I became enthralled. It is an intense study of two very different people, and the author skillfully takes the reader deeper and deeper into each character, until you feel you know them inside and out, because they share so many genuine human emotions as the reader. 

Greenwell has created an indelible story, a masterpiece that will stand long after other contemporary works are forgotten. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Little Vin at Dreamland by Edward Patterson

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Dancaster Creative (April 21, 2017)

An Enchanted Adventure

Every once in a while a book comes along that has a unique voice, a fresh and vibrant set of characters, and has the ability to transport me into another world for an adventure beyond my limited imagination. I recently experienced a writer who took me on an adventure filled with history and wonder and valor found in unexpected places. The author is Edward C. Patterson and the story is called Little Vin at Dreamland.

Little Vin at Dreamland takes the reader back into 1910 during the zenith of Coney Island’s Dreamland amusement park. Out of this rich history comes the journey of one young man, Vincent Grainger, who dreams of breaking free of the hard-toiling life in the Irish immigrant community, and expanding his acting/dancing talents in Dreamland Park’s Congress of Oddities.

Vincent (Little Vin) starts his journey mucking out livery stables while keeping an eye open for opportunities to bringing in pocket change and keep aspirations afloat. And he finds opportunities - posing for artists and waiting tables and dancing for dimes. It’s a time to sparkle for those with ambition; and little Vin has the spark to get him through the best and worst of it.

Although Little Vin is the protagonist, the main character in this novel is the dazzling world of Coney Island in its heyday, and the wide spectrum of Brooklyn society, ranging from the posh to the seedy. Little Vin takes the reader on a journey through this interesting and vivid landscape, from the thousand lights of Dreamland, Luna and Steeplechase Parks to the early days of the silent film industry at Fort Lee, NJ.

This is a story about loyalty, duty and determination. Loyalty to family, to friends, but mostly loyalty to that dream that burns within. It follows Little Vin’s efforts to balance family duty with his burning aspirations, and the stakes are raised when love blossoms in the most unexpected way.

This story is a vivid, imaginative, and often humorous romp through a pivotal point in American history. I found it a delightful read, a feel good story where love and hope and all that makes American society great eventually triumphs.

This is a character driven story (I do consider the location a character), and Patterson skillfully presents these characters with marvelous depth, using an excellent blend of tragedy and humor.

The author’s consummate skill at crafting prose and his well-researched details kept me fully engaged until the last page. I would recommend this read to anyone who enjoys multifaceted characters, humor, and a well-crafted story.