After a week of stress and not reading, I managed to finally finish The Roofer by Erica Orloff last night. I originally gravitated towards this book because of a review over at TRR. As a rule, I like darker fiction and have a special spot in my heart for crime noir settings. Think Gotham City on acid.
It's also interesting to note that AAR really hated this book. So we have one glowing review and one "hated it with a seething passion" review. I like that. I figure any book that can make a reader exhibit strong emotions (whether positive or negative) is a success. Let's face it - you always remember the books you hated or loved. The "OK" ones sort of melt into the background. At least for me anyway.
The Roofer tells the story of Ava O'Neil and her life growing up in Hell's Kitchen with her Irish mafia father. The story opens on Day One of Frank O'Neil's wake and the story unfolds in a series of flashbacks with Ava narrating along the way.
Ava is a young woman who drinks too much and has spent her entire adult life caring for her severely addicted (alcohol and drugs) brother. Tom is a cop who has lived on the edge for so long it's amazing he hasn't completely fallen off the cliff. Ava's life is defined by the suicide of her mentally ill mother, her father's abusive tendencies and love, and the men her father work with - guys with colorful nicknames like Uncle Two-Time.
Over the course of the story a reporter comes into their lives looking to de-glamorize these wiseguys and instead makes them household names. Hollywood comes calling and soon Frank O'Neil is rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. Even Ava falls in, by having an affair with Vince Quinn, the hunk who is playing her father in the film.
The violence in this story is pervasive. Ava's life isn't for wimps, and while some might see her as a victim, I never did. Life has made her hard, but she never wallows. She does what she feels she has too. And if that means picking up her brother off a bar room floor, pouring him into bed, and putting a bag of frozen peas on his head, then so be it. However Vince's arrival on the scene, along with her father's death, makes her yearn for a life away from Hell's Kitchen. A normal life. But she is bound to her brother by a terrible secret, which when revealed to the reader packs one hell of a wallop.
I can see why the AAR reviewer didn't like this book. I think she's wrong - but I still can understand her point of view. This is not an easy book to read, and I suspect Orloff didn't want it to be. Even with a happy ending (sort of), it's so bittersweet that the reader is left wondering, "Will Ava be OK?" Maybe yes, maybe no. But that's life isn't it?