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Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff
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Nov 07, 11

Read in November, 2011

Brooklyn, Burning is set among a community of teens in the punk scene on the edge of homelessness. This is triple jeopardy territory to write about without coming off as condescending, dated, or moralizing, but Brezenoff uses some clever tricks to pull it off. His first person narrative voice is credible: sharp about some things, a little dense about others. I criticized Brezenoff's last novel for sometimes putting a bit too much adult hindsight into his young character's voice; I don't think he made that mistake in this book. I don't think the novel ever uses the word "punk," and it doesn't get much more specific about what the music in it sounds like other than a bit of kibitzing about guitar manufacturers. (It does seem like it's probably "punk" in the Punk Planet sense more than in the Maximum Rocknroll sense, which is fine by me.)
Brooklyn, Burning omits a few pieces of information that you generally expect an author to supply; this felt a little gimmicky to me, but not too much; the artificiality of it is alleviated both by the fact that it's consistent with the narrator's character and a wealth of highly specific, finely observed, and grounding physical detail which compensates for the missing information.
Not all of the titular burning is metaphorical, and some of the non-metaphorical burning turns out to have a real-world antecedent. My one minor issue with the book is that it it feels a bit like a logical outsider's extrapolation of what might have led to that incident, and how it might have affected people involved with it afterwards. It's a little too linear and tidy, less messy than life. Brezenoff seems aware of this, and he compensates by building tension with a complicated flashback structure (although not as complicated as in The Absolute Value of -1 ).
I liked The Absolute Value of -1 quite a bit, but I think Brooklyn, Burning represents a definite progression. I look forward to Brezenoff's next novel.
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