When readers gathered recently to discuss the latest FYI Book Club selection, “Visitation Street” by Ivy Pochoda, one question popped up first: What is it? A mystery? A crime thriller?
By KAITE STOVER
Special to The Star
Pochoda’s second novel takes place during a steamy summer in the working-class neighborhood of Red Hook in Brooklyn, New York. Two restless teenage girls decide to float a flimsy raft from the waterfront, with Manhattan glittering across the bay. Hours later, only one of the girls washes up, alive, under a pier. The neighborhood reels from the tragedy.
Janine Myers of Merriam decided the novel wasn’t exactly a mystery.
“‘Visitation Street’ isn’t a typical crime novel, but it did exhibit elements of surprise and mystery,” she said. “I can understand why bookstores and libraries are shelving it with the other mysteries.”
Other readers said “mystery” missed the mark.
“The search for the girls kick-started the plot,” said Gregg Winsor of Overland Park, “but the book is not about the girls. The book focuses on what happens to the community after what happens to the girls.”
“It’s about the identity and development of the Red Hook characters in the face of what happened,” said Carol Larson of Kansas City.
Janette Rushing of Kansas City said the novel explored themes of grief and guilt and how the characters handled those emotions.
“Especially the young people in the novel,” said Janette Borst of Overland Park. “They see death all over the place, in their news, on the screens. In this book they are looking toward a traditional response to the immediacy of this tragedy.”
Pochoda’s characters generated the most conversation for the group.
“I knew these people,” said Kay Argie of Kansas City. “What really impressed me was how the author got the essence of all these characters. How all of the community members put on a façade until the other characters and even the reader gets to know them. These characters have a story, and they’ll tell you.”
One that stood out for readers was Fadi, the Lebanese bodega owner. All admired and sympathized with his efforts to pull the residents together.
“Fadi was the one who believed in the neighborhood of Red Hook and its residents,” Winsor said. “He showed us that through his weekly homemade newsletter of community reactions to June’s disappearance and the arrival of the Queen Mary 2. His ship didn’t come in, but he keeps on trying.”
“It was sad how hard Fadi worked to prepare his business for the cruise ship, and when the ship came in, no one stopped at it,” said M.J. McCall of Kansas City. “This big change in Red Hook made no difference at all for Fadi.”
The unearthly elements of the novel intrigued the readers. Characters seem to converse with the dead. A surprise character seems to appear out of nowhere.
“It’s not a major part of the book,” Winsor said, “but it is a crucial part.”
Rushing felt the “ghostness” of “Visitation Street” was not paranormal beings.
“It’s the part of the dead person that the living keep alive,” she said.
Pochoda joined the conversation by an online video call and was immediately asked if she had plans for a sequel. Several readers hoped two of the characters would meet up again.
“There are no plans for a sequel,” Pochoda said as she laughed. “But I do have an epilogue that the editors left out of the book. In my mind, yes, those two characters meet again.”
Readers also asked about the scenes that touched on the supernatural.
“That was the easiest part to write, and I had to trim some of them so the book wouldn’t turn out to be a ghost story,” she said. “I’m trying to make sense of the supernatural, and Red Hook lends itself well to this ghostly pallor. It’s in the neighborhood bars, on the sidewalks, the unusual people who live there.
“I left it open to interpretation and tempered it with as much reality as possible. I guess you could say I used the ghostly elements as a manifestation of the grief the characters are experiencing.”
Kaite Stover is the director of readers’ services for the Kansas City Public Library.