Undercover: 'Sorrow'

This book, which truly delivers sadness, puts publisher Braddock Avenue Books on par with a major publishing house.



Some authors like to be coy when titling their work. Aimee Bender’s "The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" could be an instruction manual for depressive pastry chefs. Thomas Pynchon’s "The Crying of Lot 49" is a veritable ode to inscrutability. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I first saw Tao Lin’s "Richard Yates" only to learn that it wasn’t a biography of the great writer. Catherine Gammon does not play those kinds of games. Her new novel is called "Sorrow," and sorrow is what she delivers.

Anita Palatino is a young woman living with her mother in a rundown New York City apartment. Anita survived years of childhood sexual abuse, but she finally has reached a breaking point. The corrosiveness of what she had suffered, her near inability to connect with other people and her virtually somnambulant existence all detonate as a result of one violent act. To disclose more about the plot would be a disservice to the reader. Suffice it to say that Gammon understands the benefits of a heavy dose of suspense.

For much of "Sorrow," I felt I was reading a masterpiece. Gammon is that good. She takes the reader by the hand and walks him or her through Anita’s consciousness, burrowing so deep into the character that you can almost hear her heart beating.

"Sorrow" is not perfect, though. There are moments when the narrative stops unnecessarily and tries to explain itself; for example, Anita receives a long letter late in the story by someone who attempts to smooth over a plot detail that feels a little too deus ex machina. This hurts the momentum of the book, which has been so masterful in its depiction of Anita’s world that the reader would surely forgive the absence of certain explanations.

Nevertheless, "Sorrow" is one of the finest novels I have read this year. Gammon’s control and sensitivity are wonders. This book puts publisher Braddock Avenue Books on par with a major publishing house like Farrar, Straus and Giroux. "Sorrow" is the announcement of a major new voice in fiction.

(Braddock Avenue Books, $16; braddockavenuebooks.com)
 



 

Mason Radkoff likes to describe his debut novel, "The Heart of June," as a coming-of-middle-age story. It’s an appropriately wry characterization — one that understates the deep reservoirs of emotion on display in this accomplished work.

Walt Farnham, once a college history professor, is a contractor of great ability, yet he has little to no discipline when it comes to completing a job. He lives above the garage of the house he previously owned, a residence that now belongs to his ex-wife and her husband. Walt tools around in a broken-down truck, which leaks oil wherever he goes. Most notably, he cares for Hardwick, the estate of Miss June Bonwell Creighton, an aging heiress whose family once hobnobbed with the Fricks and Carnegies. Miss June raised Walt after his father, who also looked after the estate, died at an early age.

Following years of watching Walt float through life without direction, Miss June sets him the challenge of finally completing a serious project by restoring her grand parlor, which felt the blows of a fire surrounded by whispered rumors. Walt needs to grow up.

It’s a pure delight to delve into Radkoff’s characters. His dialogue is crisp and filled with the jokey back-and-forth indicative of people who have known each other for years. Much like Richard Russo’s beautifully layered, heartfelt novels about small-town lives and the little victories therein, Radkoff’s "The Heart of June" is a book you’ll want to return to again and again, just to spend a little more time with the people within its pages.

(Braddock Avenue Books, $16.95; braddockavenuebooks.com)



 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


See the Video Pittsburgh Hopes Will Lure Amazon's HQ2

See the Video Pittsburgh Hopes Will Lure Amazon's HQ2

The video is part of the city's effort to snag Amazon's second headquarters, which is expected to bring 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment..

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Parts & Service Adds Pizza To Superior Motors

Parts & Service Adds Pizza To Superior Motors

Executive Chef Kevin Sousa and Pastry Chef Kate Carney are cooking sourdough pizza in an outdoor brick oven.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Underrated Fountains in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Underrated Fountains in Pittsburgh

While we all know and love the grandeur of the fountain at Point State Park, there are many hidden fountain gems throughout the city. These are a few of our lesser-known favorites.

Comments


A Mysterious (But Messy) Night at the Museum with DODO

A Mysterious (But Messy) Night at the Museum with DODO

A review of "DODO," the immersive-theater production currently taking place at the Carnegie Museums by Bricolage Production Company.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
It's What Steelers Do After Kansas City That Matters

It's What Steelers Do After Kansas City That Matters

The team is more than capable of beating the Bengals Sunday, but are they willing to keep their eye on the ball long enough to begin stacking victories again for a change?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

#Gottahaveit: Take It To the Hoop

Robert Hallett, Goldsmith, handcrafts the jewelry in his Oakmont shop.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Firefighter Flick Only the Brave is a Moving Tribute

Firefighter Flick Only the Brave is a Moving Tribute

Reviews of "Only the Brave" and "The Florida Project," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Pick of the Patch: Pumpkin-Themed Proposals

The Pick of the Patch: Pumpkin-Themed Proposals

In honor of fall, we’re showcasing three couples whose proposals involved one of the best things about the season: pumpkins.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Holiday How-To: Upgrade Your Fall Decor with Advice from Local Experts

Holiday How-To: Upgrade Your Fall Decor with Advice from Local Experts

Interior designers share their tips on creating easy, elegant décor that will take you from Halloween through Thanksgiving.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit Module

Edit Module