Cooperative Lives
by Patrick Finegan
Two Skates Publishing

"Hanni gathered her belongings and left the church. There was clarity in her mother’s pronouncement, 'This is how God repays sinners.'"

Set in recent history, the author’s book uses a Manhattan co-op as its nexus—a place where all of its characters reside or have a history of residence. From the outset, a shared address seems to be all that binds these individuals together as they, in true New York City fashion, keep their heads down and worry about their own survival rather than the lives of everyone else in the crowd. However, bonds are revealed in time. Some are being made with each passing day; others have dissolved or been hidden from years before. What starts as a metropolitan microcosm unfolds and grows to encompass stories of fortunes won and lost, international intrigue, and lives that hang in the balance after every small and large decision.

George Wallace lives in 7H, waiting for the unit to sell after a divorce and the unfortunate death of his daughter to cancer. John and Susan Roberts are up in 8B, with John forced into early retirement after his third consecutive lost job. There he raises his daughter and tends to his wheelchair-bound wife while trying to figure out how to make ends meet. A near-accident leads John to meet Sheldon Vogel in 14N after the latter saves his wife from a bus jockeying its way through traffic. One floor below resides Mildred Whiting, prolific teen romance author and mother to a CIA agent. These are just a handful of the residents of the co-op whose stories create the narrative tapestry of spies, lawyers, and doctors that goes unnoticed by the millions of other people trying to survive in New York.

The narrative feels almost like a wind-up toy or a dog leashed up and ready to go for a walk. Whereas most books begin in a status quo and introduce their conflict to the initial detriment of their characters, this book holds all of its cards from the very first page and forces the reader to pay rapt attention as it lays each one of them down in turn. What seem like challenging but mundane moments in life soon become so much more, whether in linear progression or as the story makes time hops months or years into the past. The story itself unfolds in a similar fashion, beginning with a pair of couples who used to socialize before death, divorce, and unemployment separated them. It then grows to include suspense, intrigue, danger, and espionage without deviating from its core cast of characters.

There’s an almost tertiary moral to this story about being present and involved in each other’s lives, whether you live in a city with millions of other people or just drift through the day with your nose glued to a smartphone. Appropriately, Finegan opens the story in a city-wide blackout to set the stage for this thought. Once Wally does his doomsday preparation after recalling the nightmarish blackout of 35 years prior, he leaves his isolation and enters into a half-hearted but still refreshing socialization with tourist strangers because nothing else exists to pull his attention inward. The story doesn’t hammer this idea into the reader’s mind beyond telling what its characters don’t know because they haven’t thought to ask or notice or pay attention. Written with all the passion and flourish of a love letter yet with all the calculation and clockwork of a crime novel, Finegan’s novel is a fascinating slice-of-life that rings true even as it attempts the fantastic.

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