- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Dead Rabbits LLC (September 6, 2019)
- Language: English
Set in Seattle, Emerald City follows Benison Behrenreich, the hearing son of deaf royalty. His father, CEO of a multimillion-dollar deaf access agency, has bribed Myriadal College officials for Benison’s spot on their powerhouse basketball team, where he struggles to prove himself and compensate for his father’s sins.
Julia Paolantonio has recently lost her father to a drug relapse. Her mother ships her off to live with her estranged granddad, Johnny Raciti, during the summer before her freshman year at Myriadal. Johnny offers her a deal: bring him Peter Fosch – tormented college dropout and the best drug runner west of the Cascades – and he’ll give Julia’s freshly widowed mother a board seat on his mobbed-up securities firm.
When Benison’s father is arrested for defrauding government subsidies for the deaf, the Behrenreichs are left vulnerable to his company’s ruthless backers – namely Johnny Raciti – forcing Julia and Peter to navigate the minefield left in the aftermath.
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Brian Birnbaum received his MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College in 2015. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, The Smart Set, Potluck Magazine, LUMINA, 3AM Magazine, The Collagist, Anti-Heroin Chic, and more. His debut novel, Emerald City, is forthcoming in 2019 with Dead Rabbits, whose NYC reading series is spinning off into a literary press funded by a former Amazon dev manager. He also hosts the Dead Rabbits Podcast. Brian is an only Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), and works in development for his father’s deaf access company.
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Every so often you encounter a book that just blows you away. For me, this summer (September is still summer), Emerald City is that book. Sure, the description sounds like any number of other books – Seattle, crime syndicate, family drama – these are common pieces – but Brian Birnbaum moves them distinctly uncommon ways.
First, there’s his use of language. It’s gritty, it’s present, it’s very, very real. I felt like his characters were people I would have run into on buses, in bistros, or in board rooms, as the situation might require. Then there are his characters, Julia, Johnny, and especially Benison. These characters aren’t merely dimensional, they practically leap off the page and get in your face, demanding that you listen to their stories.
And let’s not forget to talk about the Deaf culture that’s woven through the story. At no time does this addition feel like a ploy to make Emerald City unique or noticeable; rather, it’s completely organic, both incidental and important (yes, it’s possible to be both).
Reading this novel, I often felt like I had to pause and catch my breath, but I loved feeling that way, because it meant I was immersed in the story. I cannot wait to read Birnbaum’s next creation, and I foresee a long and successful career.
Goes well with a rare steak, twice-baked potatoes, and a Jameson & Ginger with a twist of lime.