Satellite Street – Eleanor Lerman (The Permanent Press)

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Sometimes, the mail brings me grief. Sometimes, the mail brings me joy. And every so often, it brings me something that piques my curiosity–which is better than either of those. The elements in Satellite Street are pretty disparate–a son whose father is in the beginning stages of dementia, a trans girl who can speak to the dead, a deceased disc jockey, and the “professional skeptic” who outed the DJ long ago and ultimately caused his demise. Eleanor Lerman, however, has wound them into a wonderful, heartfelt narrative I kept thinking about long after I’d finished.

Paul Marden, a sixty something year old New Yorker, is slowly recovering from a sudden illness and is hiding out where he grew up, in a coastal town previously ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. The house he rents is in a space-themed subdivision on Satellite Street close to the nursing home his father is in. Lelee, a transgender girl who says she can communicate with the dead, also lives in the same project. An accident with Paul’s dad in the nursing home involves Paul in a beyond-the-grave feud between The Great Oswaldo, the skeptic, and Happy Howie, the dead gay DJ, facilitated by Lelee. Paul isn’t sure he’s up to dealing with his father, let alone solve the supernatural problem, but he and Lelee have no choice.

Lerman does a terrific job setting her scene. The atmosphere of the hurricane ravaged coastal New York town to which Paul retreats suffuses the book, and perhaps that aura of ruination is what attracts Paul. He’s finally found somewhere as broken down as he is. But you can’t rebuild without demolishing, and it’s that air of possibility that allows Lerman to bring all those jigsaw pieces together to form the bigger picture.

I know I’m supposed to be paying more attention to the relationship Paul has with Lelee, and it’s certainly worth its weight to the plot, but I connected emotionally with Paul and his ailing father, Louis. The love they have for each other is as evident as their frustration with each other. Their exchanges are honest and real, containing some of the best writing in the book.

My only problem–and it’s a minor one–is that the mechanics of the climax, the supernatural confrontation between Oswaldo and Happy Howie, seem forced. I’m not talking about the confrontation itself, but the manner in which it happens. To say more would be spoiling it, but I can almost guarantee you’ll understand what I mean when you get there. I can also guarantee that by the time you finish the book, you will have forgotten all about that gaffe.

Lerman has written a fascinating book, full of beautiful moments and unexpected turns that will have you recommending this to your friends.

JW

© 2020 Jerry L. Wheeler

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