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Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson
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Jan 11, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction

In "Ten Thousand Saints" Eleanor Henderson has written the quintessential novel of New York City's East Village in the late 1980s. She truly has breathed life into the East Village's recent storied past, and has transformed that neighborhood into a character as vividly realized as her novel's people. She has rendered for the reader a most memorable fictional walking tour through East Village, allowing oneself to become attuned almost immediately to its distinctive sights and sounds. While some have compared it favorably with Jonathan Lethem's "Fortress of Solitude", Henderson's novel is a far more compelling, far more engrossing and far more successful depiction of the East Village than I have seen from Lethem's fictional portrayals of Brooklyn. Hers is a novel replete with flawed, quite captivating, characters, but these are ones who will linger long in your memory thanks to her elegant prose, so rich in its sincerity and compelling descriptions of its characters, especially the adolescents who are this novel's main protagonists. "Ten Thousand Saints" is a superb blend of personal odyssey and coming of age, perhaps our generation's "Catcher in the Rye".

The wayward adopted son of two hippie parents, Jude Keffry-Horn seems destined to follow in his father's footsteps as a juvenile pot-smoking junkie in a rural Vermont town dominated by his fellow lawless troubled teens. When his best friend Teddy succumbs to a drug overdose, Jude embarks on a personal odyssey back to the city of his birth where he will find salvation via punk music, the East Village's skinhead culture and his friendships with Teddy's brother Johnny, and Eliza, the sophisticated daughter of Di, a former ballerina and his father Les's long-time girlfriend. Yet it is an odyssey fraught with peril that begins tragically with Teddy's death and yet, ends most promisingly, in an unexpected pregnancy and birth. In "Ten Thousand Saints" Henderson has not only written a mesmerizing literary debut, but also one that definitely ranks among this year's best American novels.

(Reposted from my 2011 Amazon review)
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