Review: Halsey Street by Naima Coster

Untitled design.pngDebut author Naima Coster has written a breathtaking novel that navigates emotional minefields with realism and grace. An early contender for book of the year.

 

Set against the landscape of gentrifying Brooklyn, Naima Coster’s freshly rendered family saga explores how familial ties fray and bind again in tumultuous circumstances. Penelope Grand, former artist and current waitress, reluctantly returns home from Pittsburgh to care for her ailing father, Ralph, who lives secluded in his house on Halsey Street. Penelope’s discontented mother, Mirella, abandoned Ralph after an accident that almost crippled him, returning to the Dominican Republic in an attempt to live the life she always dreamed of. But Ralph’s been unhappy for some time, a ghost in a shell since even before his tumble down the stairs, when his iconic record store closed. Penelope’s return doesn’t serve as the restorative act she intended. Indeed, perhaps their fissures run too deep.

Penelope sublets a place a few streets from her childhood home, but this isn’t the Brooklyn she remembers. Her landlords are new to the block, having just moved from the West Village, and they are perfect embodiment’s of the shift in populace. The Harpers are a young, white, wealthy family, as equally attracted to the neighbourhood because of its history as they are wary of it. Penelope has always felt a deep sense of dislocation within herself, and it’s a gut-punch to realise her home will never again be what it once was. Still, for the sake of her father, Penelope commits to her new life in Brooklyn, until a postcard from her estranged mother forces her to deal with a past she’d tried to forget.

Halsey Street alternates between Penelope’s perspective and Mirella’s, moving back and forth in time, charting the history of the Grand family, from Mirella and Ralph’s early courtship and the inaugural days of their marriage, Penelope’s dismal freshman year at the Rhode Island School of Design, her childhood trips with her mother to the DR, and in the present day, their final shot at reconciliation.

Coster’s psychological acuity belies her status as a debut author. Halsey Street is empathetic but never sentimental, and dares to probe the dynamics of a fractured family, whose crevices can’t be blamed on a single person, rather shared amongst its three members. There were moments when I loathed these characters and their selfishness, but of course, it’s those infallibilities that make them so relatable.  This is a rich and layered story, and the only disappointing thing about it is that, at time of writing, there are no plans for an Australian release.

ISBN: 9781503941175
ISBN-10: 1503941175
Format: Hardback
Pages: 336
Imprint: Little A
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: United States

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