Crossroads Blues by Israfel Sivad is set in New York City, days before 9/11, where three friends, writer Andrew, his friend Charlie and wannabe theater director Michelle are entwined in a life in the skyline, filled with hopes, dreams and ambitions. But then the planes hit and their lives are shattered forever, when Michelle is lost to the Towers, leaving Andrew lost in grief.
The interesting thing for me with this book is that I am married to a New Yorker who lived blocks from The World Trade Center on 9/11, and has written a fictional book featuring 9/11 (We met when I was researching human disasters and found his book), so I was able to ask him how accurate this portrayal is.
I wonder if 9/11 is a literary sacred cow, and therefore it’s difficult to criticize a story that revolves around it. But this is a poignant and thoughtful plot, with much to admire, even if some of the actual descriptions of 9/11 are not quite as real and powerful as I would have hoped for, the sense of loss is described with some depth. But there are touches of local NYC that will raise a smile or a tear for anyone who has lived there.
The author, obviously well-read and looking to enrich his work overreaches with his referencing. Literary and musical references abound, from Greek tragedy to David Bowie. Luckily for me, I am very well-read with a classical education, and have an encyclopaedic passion for music, but if I didn’t, I wonder how well I would have coped with these references. Because it matters that you “get” them – it’s the way Sivad writes. Maybe by tightening his chapters and losing a little of this – or explaining it more comprehensively, more readers would be able to grasp the often beautiful juxtaposing of these snippets. I do think the novel is zealously over-written, but Sivad should be able to temper his writing to a more accessible standard – It strikes me as a “first novel” sort of process that should refine with time and experience.
This is a love story – unrequited, desperately sad and tragic, but also fills the reader with an entire world – characters are extremely well-rounded with individual voices. Michelle endears immediately, and Sivad conveys her entire personality and looks in a very short time frame before she dies, enabling the reader to feel the pain Andrew feels throughout the book. I like that Sivad writes all types of characters: gay, straight, female and male all have souls, and women characters are written with flesh and blood – they have interior worlds, and are driven as much as the males, which is a rare gem in a male-led book written by a man.
There is a terrific subplot to this book, of a play written that is pretty terrible, that leads to another idea that is fantastic, pivotal and engrossing. I shan’t say any more because it truly is a great idea and well worth delving into. An unusual work with merit of a kind seldom available in self-published works. It will be interesting to see how Sivad develops as he experiences what it is to write in this world more extensively.