Thursday, June 2, 2011

Brooklyn Story by Suzanne Corso — 336 pgs

Brooklyn StoryIt’s 1978 and fifteen year old Samantha Bonti is living in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, in a shabby apartment with her ailing mother and grandmother. Though her grandmother is loving and kind to Samantha, her mother, a prisoner of addiction and ill health, is constantly berating and maligning her daughter to no obvious effect. When Samantha’s older friend Janice introduces the young girl to twenty year old Tony Kroon, a local who is part of the “Brooklyn Boys” crew, Sam’s life is changed forever. Soon she’s living the high life of expensive gifts, hot cars and exclusive clubs, but it all comes with a hefty price tag. Before she even realizes what’s happened, things begin to take a sinister turn. Though her relationship with Tony goes from smooth to rocky in the blink of an eye, Sam still has dreams of becoming a writer and moving across the bridge to Manhattan, dreams that may perish if she continues to be Tony’s girl. As Sam grows into a young woman, she must navigate through the rough waters of Tony’s possessiveness, violence and disregard. Though her mother and grandmother constantly tell her Tony is trouble, it’s only when Sam begins to see him through newly clear eyes that she discovers a man unlike any she has ever known, and must decide whether to remain the girlfriend of a small time mobster or to attempt to realize her dreams of becoming famous across the water. In this realistically gritty portrayal of a young girl caught up in a dangerous relationship, Suzanne Corso brings 1970s Brooklyn into fast and furious relief, and shares Samantha Bonti’s heartbreak and joy as she attempts to make a better life for herself.

This is going to be a tough book to review, because although it’s not a memoir, it’s based upon the real life circumstances of the author’s past. This causes a problem for me because I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, but by making critical comments on it, it feels like I’m judging the life of a person and not just the story between the pages. The book’s curious melding of fact and fiction present me with a unique problem in giving it a fair review, but I’ll do my best to explain how I felt without trying to alienate or offend the author whose life story this book reflects.

Sam is a bright girl with dreams, but though she dreams of a better life, she’s soon invested in a pedestrian and controlling relationship with a wannabe gangster who treats her like a piece of property. There were times when she did mentally rebel over the way Tony treated her, but she never seemed to let those thoughts move into action. I also found it a little off-putting that Sam was only fifteen years old when when she began to date a twenty year old man. I know that this sort of thing happens, but having a daughter this age, it really stuck an unpleasant chord and sort of nauseated me. I also was also frustrated by the repetitive way that Sam reacted like a deer in the headlights every time her so-called great catch acted abusive. Thinking back, it’s clear to see that Sam was in way over her head, but with only the other girls in her neighborhood (who were all in the same situation) to look to for advice, Sam never really had a chance.

There was a lot of talk about how smart Sam was in regards to her writing, but I guess it was all book smarts and not street smarts. She continually acted rather foolishly for most of the story, caught up in the wash of a baby mobster's bad behavior. Though every adult in her life tells her that she should get away from Tony, Sam continued to be naive and trusting of a man who was just no good for her. A lot of the time she came off as a bit backward and seemed to have some underlying self-esteem issues that halted her progress when it came to leaving Tony. I also didn’t like that she constantly made excuses for his behavior, even when no excuse could have sufficed, and it was bothersome that she kept changing her behavior and attitude to model the type of behavior that Tony demands. As Sam gets more and more invested in Tony and his lifestyle, she gets further and further away from the life she longs to lead one day, but it isn’t until things begin to get out of control that she even thinks that being with Tony might be a problem.

Another thing that bothered me was the fact that although Sam was purportedly only fifteen, she thought, spoke, and acted like a much older teenager. The story was littered with clich├ęs and uninspired dialogue which took a lot of the originality out of it as well. As Sam mistakes dominance for affection over and over again, she repeatedly deludes herself about the strong connection that she shares with Tony, which was upsetting to me. She also continues to support all of his ill-intentioned decisions, and even as I turned the last few pages, I saw that Sam wasn’t able to fully break away from Tony as I had thought she would once she realized what kind of person he really was. It angered me that she kept going back to him, even when he did things that were tremendously unfeeling and selfish. The only bright spot was the relationship Sam had with her grandmother and her adherence to and love for her writing. As Sam eventually discovers, she must rely on herself to pull out of the tailspin she’s in and move on to a better life.

I have to be honest and say that this book frustrated me. In certain regards, I think it glamorized abusive relationships, and the main character spent a lot of time deluding herself and making things like this seem acceptable. If read by the wrong audience, it might send the wrong message, and though I’m loathe to criticize the author’s life, I didn’t find the book to be as memorable or original as I had hoped it would be. There are lessons to be learned, but they come very late, and as such their impact is severely diminished.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

23 comments:

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

This sounds lieka fairly tough one to get through. I'm not a big fan of abusive relationship stories though I know they help some people work through their own issues on the subject. I think it's just hard for me to watch really bad situations especially when I know they're inspired by real life.

Vasilly said...

I would think that if the author was able to get out of an abusive relationship, her character would have had the same chance. Hmm.

Suko said...

This book sounds heartbreaking. As usual, you've written a very thoughtful and cohesive review, Zibilee.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds like there is a lot not to like about this book! And you know, maybe it's just me, but I get really irritated at all the female characters who have confusing names, like Sam or Andy or Ronnie.

Amy said...

I love the cover of this one, but I can't handle any more romanticizing of abusive relationships.

softdrink said...

Grrr, romanticizing unhealthy relationships is a pet peeve of mine, too. I'm sure I'd be too mad at Sam to finish the book.

Darlene said...

I don't agree with making abusive relationships seem ok but at the same time I understand the cycle of a person making it seem acceptable to themselves and even the going back when you know its the wrong thing to do. It is difficult to review something when it rubs you the wrong way and yet it very likely means a lot to an author. I'm not sure I'd like this one only because I'm not into the whole gangster type relationship thing. I wish it had been a better read for you though.

Jenners said...

I can imagine that this was a difficult review to write. I know what you mean when you're reviewing a book that is based (either directly or indirectly) on the author's life; you feel like you are picking apart their decisions. This does sound like it has a host of issues ... from the writing to the decisions of the characters. I thought you provided a thoughtful and balanced review that you can feel proud of.

Amy said...

Sounds like a difficult book to read and review. Romanticizing abusive relationships is never good, but also sounds like it highlights the blindness that can go on from within it and how impossible it can sometimes be to see the light and get out. I'm conflicted on whether to read it or not! Great review.

Biblibio said...

I think it's harder to review autobiographical novels than it is to review memoirs. A novel isn't just the story - there needs to be more than just the things that happened. Meanwhile, because it is somewhat autobiographical, there's the same guilty feeling of finding the story to be "bad". How can something that really happened be bad? In a novel, it can be. It's just difficult to say.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I have this one on my wish list, but after reading a few reviews, I'm not too sure I'd enjoy it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

Swapna said...

Hrrm...I think I'll pass on this one. Thanks for the honest review!

Audra said...

Nice review -- I'm with you on the difficulty of writing about a novel-based-on-fact (I'm sort of sick of getting novels based on the author's family -- I feel like shouting 'Distance, people, distance!'). Anyway, I appreciated your review -- it sounds as if the author should have considered doing a memoir exploring who she was and how she escape this relationship rather than try to fictionalize some aspects of her life -- for reasons you articulated.

Jenny said...

Did you win this from me? I started to write a comment but then remembered I did a giveaway and I'm wondering if you were the winner of that one. This was a DNF for me, and I tried a couple times. I had been so excited too b/c I love NYC/Brooklyn, love the cover, it's supposedly the first in a trilogy, etc. But yeah it didn't work for me either.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

The story idea sounded great to me too at first. I'm the mother of 18, 16, and 7 yr. old daughters. Abusive relationships are hard enough for me to handle without the possibility of the behavior being romanticized. For those reasons I probably wouldn't be able to stomach this one. Thanks for the very honest and very specific review :)

Beth F said...

You were definitely in a tough position when review this one. But I I'd have similar problems in accepting the romanticizing of an abuse relationship. This wasn't on my wish list and I doubt I'll add it.

TheBookGirl said...

I can fully understand why you might have struggled to write this review; I think you did a very fair and thoughtful critique. This is not a book that I would probably read, although that cover hooked me in for a moment :)

bermudaonion said...

This does sound like a tough story line. We have a niece who is in an emotionally abusive relationship and it's not something that should be glamorized or condoned. I have a feeling this isn't for me.

Zibilee said...

Jen,
No, I didn't win this one form you, but I do remember your DNF review of it when it came out, and that was my first inkling that this might not be a book for me. I have had this one my shelf for review for quite a long time, and was finally getting around to my backlog when I came across this one. It was a tough read for sure, but the biggest problem I had with it was the romanticizing of the relationship between Tony and Sam.

Geosi said...

So sorry to hear that this book frustrated you and I clearly see the point you trying to carry across. Great review though.

Amy said...

Sam sounds like a victim of domestic violence, many of whom defend the men who abuse them physically, emotionally and verbally, to anybody who criticizes them. Often times, once these women are hooked on their abuser, it's difficult to get them to seperate from him because his control is so strong.

It also sounds like Sam's been beaten down by her mother and so is full of insecurity about herself. Female domestic violence victims often cling to the first man who shows them love even though that love comes at a price. They're often their own worst enemy. Sam obviosly needed much better guidance and more boundaries from a parental figure than she received from her mother & grand-mother while growing up. It sounds like Sam, at 15 & having grown up with a sick, addicted mother has been forced to be an adult but in many ways she's still an immature child and her desperation to be truly loved causes her to mistake control & dominance for love.

I think writing stories about domestic violence relationships are important so long as the relationship isn't glamorized and the author shows at some point how destructive these relationships can be for the victims and also how they can get help to break free of an abuser and live life on their own terms. It doesn't sound as if Sam finds clarity about her relationship with Tony. I hoped that being told frequently what a bad guy he is, she'd see it for herself, particularly if he's threatening her dream of being a writer. It sounds like Suzanne Corso may not have reconciled what her life was and is now and therefore Sam's life remans unresolved. There is so much help available today for women in relationships like Sam's with Tony and it's a shame Sam doesn't benefit from any of the help she really needs.

I spent a lot of time working with victims of domestic violence when I was a prosecutor so your review of this book really interests me, Heather. I think I'd like to read this book and am going to list it at the top of my tbr list!

(I apologize for my very long comment!)

Anonymous said...

For all of you who have not read the book, don't be so judgmental. I liked it, although much of it was predictable. Yes, Sam had a hard time breaking away from tony. He was charming, handsome and knew how to manipulate. Sam needed love. If you read her acknowledgments, you will find out that she has indeed been successful in her writing career and her personal life.

Anonymous said...

I understand how you all feel. But trust me Samantha did get out and never did she glamorize an abusive relationship or the mob for that matter. As we all know nothing good about both ever comes out of it, trust me. No woman should ever have to go through what Samantha endured. She made it over the bridge.Movie coming.. Keep reading!!!!!!!

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