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The Sea Beach Line
Cover of The Sea Beach Line
The Sea Beach Line
A Novel
Borrow Borrow

Set in post-Giuliani New York City, The Sea Beach Line melds mid-20th- century pulp fiction and traditional Jewish folklore as it updates the classic story of a young man trying to find his place in the world.
After being expelled from Oberlin for hallucinogenic drug use, Izzy Edel seeks out his estranged father—a Polish Jew turned Israeli soldier turned New York street vendor named Alojzy who is reported to be missing, possibly dead. To learn about Alojzy's life and discover the truth behind his disappearance, Izzy takes over his father's outdoor bookselling business and meets the hustlers, gangsters, and members of a religious sect who peopled his father's world. He also falls in love.
As Izzy soon discovers, appearances can deceive; no one, not even his own father, is quite whom he seems to be. Vowing to prove himself equal to Alojzy's legacy of fearlessness, Izzy plunges forward on a criminal enterprise that will bring him answers—at great personal cost.
Fans of Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, Nathan Englander's For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, and Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union will relish to Ben Nadler's combined mystery, love story, and homage to text and custom.

Set in post-Giuliani New York City, The Sea Beach Line melds mid-20th- century pulp fiction and traditional Jewish folklore as it updates the classic story of a young man trying to find his place in the world.
After being expelled from Oberlin for hallucinogenic drug use, Izzy Edel seeks out his estranged father—a Polish Jew turned Israeli soldier turned New York street vendor named Alojzy who is reported to be missing, possibly dead. To learn about Alojzy's life and discover the truth behind his disappearance, Izzy takes over his father's outdoor bookselling business and meets the hustlers, gangsters, and members of a religious sect who peopled his father's world. He also falls in love.
As Izzy soon discovers, appearances can deceive; no one, not even his own father, is quite whom he seems to be. Vowing to prove himself equal to Alojzy's legacy of fearlessness, Izzy plunges forward on a criminal enterprise that will bring him answers—at great personal cost.
Fans of Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, Nathan Englander's For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, and Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union will relish to Ben Nadler's combined mystery, love story, and homage to text and custom.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    We went to Washington Square Park to have our picnic, because it's where we knew to go. We sat in the far Northwest corner so none of the other booksellers would see us. Malachi the drug dealer noticed me, but he just nodded, and went about his business. We spread an army blanket I'd brought from the storage space, and laid out our bounty.

    “So Rayna," I said. “You were talking about your family's house earlier. In Boro Park? I still don't know much about you, or where you come from."

    “That's true." Her face clouded, and she didn't say anything else for a long while. I had pushed too hard, as I had with Roman and Timur. I kept asking questions, when I needed to just wait for answers to come. It had been so nice spending time with Rayna, and I'd ruined it. We chewed our food in silence. Squirrels and pigeons came too close. They were not afraid of people, and they wanted a bite of our food.

    “I'll tell you a story," Rayna said, carefully. “From my family's neighborhood."

    “Yeah?" I asked, wanting to encourage her without pushing.

    “There was a boy who lived by me," said Rayna. “Who thought he was a pigeon."

    “Really?" I couldn't tell if she was serious, or joking, or relating a local legend.

    “Yes. He was the oldest son of a family who lived down the street from my family. The father ran a nice business selling hats. The Hat King, they called him. The family hoped that the son would grow up and take over the business, but then he somehow got it into his hatless head that he was a pigeon." I sat, enthralled. I didn't think Rayna was going to tell me anything, and now words were pouring forth. It was clear that she was repeating a story she had heard—perhaps even told—many times before. Still, I was happy that she was telling it to me.

    “All day long he would hang out in the park with the other pigeons, naked, pecking around. There's these stone tables in the park there? With chessboards for tabletops? Where old men play, sometimes?" I nodded to show I understood.

    “There are some in this park too," I said, pointing down to the park's Southwest corner. There were men who came and played there every day. They weren't a part of my scene—I didn't come to the West side of the park very often—but they were part of the park life, just like the drug dealers, the street musicians, or us booksellers. Washington Square chess was not recreational. These chess hustlers played all takers, for two or three dollars a game. Al was a pretty good chess player. I wondered if he ever played those guys. He wouldn't play them unless he knew he'd win.

    “Yes, like that. So, he'd go around and around the bases of the tables, all day long. He would eat chips that children dropped on the ground. It was very embarrassing to his family. In Boro Park, everyone is always watching everyone else. Judging. His siblings were able to get him back inside at night, but only by shooing him in with a broom. He'd coo at his mother—who he'd always loved—and eat the challah she baked, so long as she ripped it into little pieces and tossed them under the table.

    “The Hat King and his wife tried everything. They brought in the boy's old friends from Yeshiva to visit, but he didn't seem to recognize them. They brought in rabbis, gypsy hypnotists, doctors with theories. What do you call them? Analysts? But none of them could convince him. He wouldn't respond but with a peck and a flapping of his wings. Arms." Rayna paused to sip her wine. A park pigeon cocked his head, as if waiting for Rayna to resume her story.

    “What could the family do?...

About the Author-
  • Ben Nadler is the author of the novel Harvitz, As to War (Iron Diesel Press) and several chapbooks, including Punk in NYC's Lower East Side, 1981-1991 (Microcosm Publishing) and The Men Who Work Under the Ground (Keep This Bag Away From Children Press). A poetry and comic collaboration chapbook is forthcoming with the visual artist Alyssa Berg. Nadler earned a BA from Eugene Lang College of the New School and an MFA from the City College of New York/CUNY. He has taught at City College, Eugene Lang College, and The College of New Rochelle-School of New Resources in the South Bronx. A former Manhattan street vendor, he has also worked in bookstores across New York, Chicago, and the San Francisco Bay Area. He lives in Brooklyn.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2015
    Stories both ancient and contemporary lurk beneath the surface of this New York saga of discovery and revelation. Izzy Edel, narrator of Nadler's (Harvitz, As to War, 2011) new novel, embarks on an odyssey of a peculiar sort after he's expelled from Oberlin for overenthusiastic use of hallucinogens. A cryptic postcard from Izzy's long-estranged father, Alojzy, and a mysterious letter from someone named Semyon Goldov reporting that Alojzy is missing and perhaps dead-received two days apart-prompt Izzy to leave New Mexico, where his mother and stepfather had been providing him with rest and rehabilitation, for his father's world of Brooklyn and downtown New York. Upon arrival in New York, Izzy undertakes to solve the puzzle of his father's life or death. When he steps into Alojzy's role selling books from a cart in Greenwich Village and takes up residence in his storage unit, the gritty realities of his father's hidden life are perplexingly revealed. Rayna, a fragile young woman with mysterious ties to a shadowy Hasidic sect in Borough Park, aids Izzy's bookselling and detective efforts but hides secrets of her own. As more of Alojzy's dubious business dealings are revealed, Izzy descends further into a world of questionable activity and finds that the answers to his father's mystery are as complicated as the circumstances he finds himself in. The confluence of a byzantine plot, intriguing references to Jewish folktales and the Talmud, and an epic storm results in an updated noir providing a glimpse of the Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan hidden from tourists and hipsters alike.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from August 1, 2015

    When Izzy Edel receives an enigmatic postcard from Alojzy, the father with whom he has not communicated in several years, his young wasted life immediately takes on purpose. Expelled from college, Izzy heads for New York City to find Alojzy. There are no answers as to his father's whereabouts, but Izzy takes over his father's business selling books on the street. He becomes involved with gangsters who may have worked with his father. He also rescues Rayna, a young woman who has fled her Hasidic home and is living on the streets. For Izzy, life becomes extremely complicated as no one he meets is actually who he seems to be; and the questions about Alojzy's disappearance and Rayna's existence become even more mysterious. VERDICT In his second novel (after Harvitz, As to War) Nadler has crafted a New York hustler coming-of-age tale in which his protagonist's life mirrors that of a yeshiva student, then the hero of a pulp novel about the Mafia, and finally the biblical patriarch Isaac. The interweaving of Izzy's search with Hasidic tales and the the realities of life on the streets results in a mesmerizing narrative that will speak to any readers who have tried to make sense of their parents' lives or the secrets that people keep.--Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Library Journal (starred review) "Nadler has crafted a New York hustler coming-of-age tale in which his protagonist's life mirrors that of a yeshiva student, then the hero of a pulp novel about the Mafia, and finally the biblical patriarch Isaac. The interweaving of Izzy's search with Hasidic tales and the realities of life on the streets results in a mesmerizing narrative that will speak to any readers who have tried to make sense of their parents' lives or the secrets that people keep."
  • Kirkus Reviews "The confluence of a byzantine plot, intriguing references to Jewish folktales and the Talmud, and an epic storm results in an updated noir providing a glimpse of the Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan hidden from tourists and hipsters alike."
  • New York Journal of Books "Nadler has the courage to explore worlds--both spiritual and gritty--that are not usually the stuff of mainstream fiction, especially not combined. Mystical and folk stories are sprinkled throughout, including a retelling of the book of Esther. Best of all are the sympathetic, Steinbeck-like portraits of the lives of street people whom most of us ignore."
  • Foreword Reviews "The Sea Beach Line explores themes of self-reliance, solitude, loyalty, and the stories people weave to diffuse pain. With its colorful immersion into the mind of an unstable narrator, the work speaks to the powerful tide of memory."
  • Salar Abdoh, author of Tehran at Twilight and editor of Tehran Noir "New York City pulsates with the accidental lives of seers and thugs, mystics and con artists, false prophets, lovers, and sidewalk heroes in The Sea Beach Line, a one-way ticket into the subterranean life of the city and what lies beyond it."
  • Brendan Kiely, author of The Gospel of Winter “With echoes of Paul Auster's Leviathan, Ben Nadler's The Sea Beach Line is a hypnotic mosaic of stories within stories whose layers piece together a fascinating mystery of a young man's search for his father. Isaac's story is as philosophical as the oldest question: Who am I, and why am I here? In Nadler's hands, this question rings ever more essential."
  • Peter Trachtenberg, author of Another Insane Devotion "The Sea Beach Line is a thriller, and a very good one. Beyond that, it's a thriller informed by the lore of Jewish mysticism, with its sacred texts and burning words and true and false messiahs, and by themes of paternity and patrimony: what it is our fathers leave us, even the fathers we never knew. It gripped me by the throat and wouldn't let go."
  • You're Beautiful, New York “[F]rom a Vietnam vet's weed farm in California to a gated community in Florida, from Coney Island to Williamsburg - As To War enticingly intimates Nadler's great fund of erudition, shrewdness, and brutality."
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