Grove Press: Elements of Fiction by Walter Mosley

Cornelius Sky

The underbelly of New York City during the summer of 1974 is the setting of Timothy Brandoff's meticulously rendered first novel, Cornelius Sky. The story maps the travails of Connie, a troubled, down-on-his-luck doorman at a posh Fifth Avenue apartment building.

Hard-living Connie finds it tough to hold a job. Having been employed at a half-dozen buildings over a period of 10 years, he lands a swing shift working at an upscale building that houses a widowed former First Lady and her 13-year-old son. Connie befriends the rebellious teenager, and the two smoke pot and play board games in a stairwell to escape the prying eyes of the Secret Service detail. But Connie camouflages the fact that his own life is spiraling out of control: Connie's drinking has unraveled his marriage; his wife has changed the locks and thrown him out; and his 12-year-old son is filled with seething rage and hatred for his drunken father. Connie's floundering inability to take control of his life threatens everything--including his latest job--until he faces a sudden reckoning, where strangers in his path enlighten him to hard truths.

Brandoff paints an emotionally searing portrait of his protagonist, slowly divvying out details of Connie's past and showing how that past shaped him--his strengths, the pitfalls to which he succumbs and the gaps in his character. Rich, beautiful writing enlarges dramatic scenes that serve to amplify the gritty authenticity of a powerful story. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines