In Fresh Kills, the murder of John Sanders, Sr. on a New York street corner reunites his estranged and abused children, John, Jr. and Julia. While Julia struggles to keep things together on the home front, Junior, unhinged by his father's death, searches for the killer across the bleak, haunted landscape of his Staten Island hometown. Complicating Junior's pursuit are two police detectives: one, a former childhood friend; the other, a veteran cop who might have his own reasons to wish John, Sr. dead. Junior's affair with his high school sweetheart doesn't exactly simplify the situation either, and his emotional state crumbles under the pressure coming at him from every side. When the opportunity for revenge presents itself, Junior must decide whether he will continue the chain of violence that has nearly destroyed his life, or give in to the possibility of a new beginning.
This novel is a wonderful anomaly: a thriller with a sensitive heart. When he learns that his father has been shot, 30-something John Sanders ("Junior") is furious. Sanders senior was a drunk who beat and belittled his son. Now Junior knows he'll never get revenge on the man who blighted his life. Junior is a cynical failure, a man who never aspired for more than his bartender job, whose lover has left him, and who is now bedding his old high school sweetheart although he knows she's committed to another man. The third woman in his life is his younger sister, Julia, who comes home from Boston to help bury their father. For most of this gritty tale, Junior careens from one drunken confrontation to another, trying to find his father's killer. The action plays out on the mean streets of Staten Island and its famous garbage dump, Fresh Kills, and the author evokes the particulars of lower middle class life with great understanding. The portrait of Junior's damaged personality is so subtly developed that he becomes a sympathetic character despite his faults, and his eventual, hard-won epiphany brings a gust of pleasure.
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August 20, 2008
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