Writing a Book Like Coney Island

By | Tagged: culture

Joshua Cohen’s most recent novel,Witz, is now available. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

So it’s summer again—or almost. The calendar only belatedly confirms what the bare arms and legs knew weeks earlier. But I’m writing this inside—I’ve been inside too much lately.

I live in southern Brooklyn, 11235—Brighton Beach, on a beach block—and

from my window can glimpse about an inch, an inch and a half, of brackish water. I say “water” because it’s not ocean, it’s the bay. Another misconception? People come to the beach, spread their blankets, point to the land just across from them, rising from the murk of Lower Bay, and say, “Look at Staten Island.”

They’re looking at New Jersey.

People. Summers in the Seagate-Coney Island-Brighton Beach-Manhattan Beach nexus mean crowds. Half of the city making its Q Train way to my beach come Saturday AM. Bringing their foods, their beers, and so their trash. Their ethnic radio: bulletins in Russian, Turkish, Hindi, Urdu. Also bulletins in English. And the many jellyfish they leave behind—the used condoms in every color and design (ribbed jellyfish; tickler jellyfish; that most beautiful but tacky species of condom that glows in the dark, which brings to mind a favorite term from high school biology, “bioluminescence”).

Summer serves even to relocalize the locals: by June characters who’d spent September through May shut-in, emerge, taking a brief vacation from their televisions and neuroses.

As for me, I turn thirty in September. That was a difficult sentence to write. I still think of summers as breaks from school: as recess. I’m thinking already, “I better not be assigned a class with Mrs. Falk” (but Mrs. Falk must be retired by now; hopefully her straight blonde wig’s retired, too).

My novel, Witz, was published in May. It is my third novel—after 
Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto
, and 
A Heaven of Others
—by far my longest, most ambitious. But it’s only now that the work’s begun—the work of talking about it, of writing about it; it’s a job for a shadchan (a matchmaker), or a masochist. I’m going to write two more of these ruminations for you—about literature and incipient summer, about the lives of both in Brooklyn South.

Posted on June 1, 2010

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