Brian Platzer’s Bed-Stuy is Burning is an ambitious debut novel that seeks to explore love, race, religion, ambition and gentrification in a mere 320 pages. Which is perhaps biting off more than it can chew. While Platzer’s grand aspirations are laudable — and certainly I’d rather a novelist shoot for the stars and miss rather than settle for something middling — the result is muddled; a book pockmarked with a few powerful moments and shades of great characters, which aren’t given the chance to truly shine and take on a life of their own.
Basically, this is a story about the relationship between Aaron, an ex-rabbi turned investment manager with a gambling addiction and a waned faith in God, and his girlfriend, Amelia, a freelance journalist determined to write more than celebrity fluff pieces and new mother, who loves the father of her child, just has serious reservations about marrying him. This alone has all the makings of a solid book; lots to play with here already. But wait, there’s more: Aaron and Amelia recently purchased a house in the historically black neighbourhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. They and their tenants, are the only white people on their block, which so far hasn’t been an issue; in fact, they’ve been welcomed into the area. Until, that is, the police shoot and kill a twelve-year-old black child, which inspires a rebellion. And Aaron, Amelia, their nanny, their tenant Daniel, a neighbour and a young black girl who’s just escaped a demonstration are caught smack-bang in the middle.
The narrative flits between each of their perspectives, unravelling the day in occasionally-disjointed chunks. It’s a little clunky at times, but it keeps momentum going, and there is one particular set-piece that’s executed with pulse-pounding brilliance; real white-knuckle stuff as the angry crowd advance on Aaron and Amelia’s home.
It’s not that Bed-Stuy is Burning is in any shape or form a bad book; it’s just brimming with so much potential and shades of greatness, I’m disappointed it doesn’t hit those heights. It’s under-cooked; underdeveloped. I wanted more. And as much as I love a novel with pace, it would’ve been nice to slow things down a little, dig a bit deeper. Having said that, it shows a lot of promise from an author whose next book I will certainly read.
Format: Paperback (213mm x 140mm x mm)
Imprint: Emily Bestler Books
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: 1-Aug-2018
Country of Publication: United States