Friday, April 19, 2019

My Coney Island Baby by Billy O'Callaghan

Books, for Caitlin, had never been anything less than a kind of sorcery. As a child she was constantly armed, and even by her late pre-teens she'd become so voracious a reader that the twice-weekly visits to her local library could barely sate her hunger. More than just educating her, books offered release and freedom in every direction. Desert islands and deepest space became as real as the Brooklyn streets; she learned of headless horsemen and river rafting, Victorian-era London and dogs that would trek across continents to find their masters, and she got to know peg-legged pirates, pipe-smoking detectives and cowboys who drank and brawled but who loved their horses more than their women and who prized honor above all else. 

~p. 91 of Advance Reader Copy, My Coney Island Baby (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

You can guess why I chose that particular passage to share with other booklovers. In My Coney Island Baby by Billy O'Callaghan, Michael and Caitlin have been meeting once a month at Coney Island for decades, sharing their deepest thoughts and intimacy in a way neither can with their respective spouses. But, now things are changing. Will this afternoon in Coney Island be their last or will they finally decide to run away together?

Of course, My Coney Island Baby is not just about that specific afternoon. Instead, as the couple walk to their hotel in the biting winter cold, warm up over coffee, and then climb into bed, their story unfolds. You get to know not only how they met and became lovers but how they met their spouses and the crushing pain that shattered Michael's and his wife's joy, the slow deterioration of warmth in Caitlin's marriage.

I'm not normally a fan of books about marriage or infidelity (or both) and tend to prefer a plot-driven book over one that's character-driven, but Billy O'Callaghan is the friend of a friend and I've wanted to read something by him for a while. I just hadn't gotten around to hunting down anything when My Coney Island Baby became available for review. I didn't enjoy the details of the sex scenes, where they're waxing on about how love makes a freckle on the shoulder special or whatever (not my thing, in general) but I found O'Callaghan's writing poetic and I thought he did an excellent job of balancing the past and present so that by the end of the book I cared about the two people enough to be invested in the decision they had to make about whether or not they'd end up together.

Recommended but not a favorite - Particularly recommended to readers who enjoy a character-driven novel and don't mind a slightly melancholy tone. A story of love and longing, marriage and infidelity, joy and grief, My Coney Island Baby was never going to be a favorite because it has elements I dislike. So, I was surprised at how gripping I found it. It ended up being a 4-star book (out of 5) because of the beauty of the prose, the magnetic pull of the central question, the depth of emotion, the moments of wisdom or acute observation:

In your forties your sense of longing shifts, and pleases itself in comfort rather than thrills. 

I'll definitely be looking for more by Billy O'Callaghan. My thanks to HarperCollins for the review copy.

Oops, forgot to mention the reason Fiona Friday ended up on Thursday! Well, obviously I mixed up the days of the week but I also had to hurriedly post because I knew storms were coming and that line of storms was a doozy. You may have seen an image of two flipped cars on the news (I watched the CBS evening news and saw it), last night. That was from our local Walmart. Because the storms lasted quite a while, once I unplugged the computer I just left it that way and spent my evening reading. Today, it's raining but I can see a wedge of blue sky and I'm very much looking forward to it pushing the latest clouds away. My yard is a lake. Ready to dry out, here. Happy Good Friday to those who celebrate Easter!

©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

1 comment:

  1. I love character-driven novels and that passage you shared has convinced me this is a book I need to read!

    I'm glad you didn't have any damage from the big storm that hit your area. I have to say, I do not miss all the alerts, sirens or heading to the basement! Be safe, my friend!


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