"August And Then Some" by David Prete

I’ve never heard of this author before, nor this novel, nor even seen it advertised anywhere. I found it one day while bookstore browsing and for some reason it just jumped out at me and a little voice inside me told me to pick it up and have a look. I read the cover flap and it looked like a very interesting story, so I bought it, taking the chance. This was quite a few months ago. I finally got around to reading it. 


The author, David Prete, is not only a writer but an actor and is also very involved in the theater - in both acting and directing roles, which I find interesting because this novel is very “filmic” in a lot of ways. I can easily see this being made into a film. The writing is absolutely superb and the storytelling - many writers can learn a lot of things from David Prete - pacing, suspense, character development, story structure - it’s all here, folks. This is top notch writing and storytelling and it’s no wonder why a critic once labeled him “the Chekov of The Bronx” (due to the critical success of his first book, the short story collection, Say That To My Face - which I am now in search of.) 


August And Then Some is Prete’s first novel. It’s a very dark family drama set in contemporary New York City and the city of Yonkers. JT Savage (or Jake) is living in a squalid apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He’s young - late teens/early twenties - and his home life had been nothing but abysmal. His father was a drunk (among other things) and the kind of father who decides to take his 12 year old son to a bar to play pool, then get into a fight in order to test whether or not his son “had his back”, then allows him to drive his prized 1965 Shelby Cobra despite have never been behind the wheel before in his life. He’s also abusive to his wife. Jake’s mother is the type of woman too scared to make the move to leave him and in a lot of ways becomes her husband’s enabler to the awful things he does. When we first meet JT, we can see that his relationship with both his parents is virtually destroyed. And there’s good reason for it. So JT decides to leave home - first living homeless in Tompkins Square Park for a while before getting himself a construction job which allows him to (barely) make the rent on his dilapidated old flat. 


It is at the lowest point in his life but he’s doing his best to try to make something of himself, like working to earn his GED and to eventually move on to better things. But the tragedy in his family keeps pulling him backward. Facing a theft and assault charge, he is forced into counseling with his parents, where the family dynamic is played out little by little. There is a hint that something else is going on but the author deftly drops slight clues here and there, setting in motion a “slow burn” that keeps building and building. While trying to get himself together, he befriends one of his neighbors, a 16 year old Dominican girl - Stephanie -  who happens to be the niece of the super of his building. Stephanie is with a total douchebag named Nelson who is nothing more than an abusive thug. JT witnesses Nelson’s abuse outside his building and inserts himself in the situation to put a stop to it. From that moment on, Stephanie and JT become close friends and JT seems to be on a mission to help this troubled - and pregnant - teenager. 


The first question the reader will ask himself is why would JT get involved in such matters when he already has all this other trouble going on in his life? That question cannot be answered here without dropping a huge spoiler so you will have to read the novel to see why. But I will say that their budding friendship is part of the “slow burn” this story takes on. The chapters alternate between the present time and a flashback to what led up to JT’s current situation in life - and the flashback scenes focus squarely on his family life and his relationship to his best friend “Nokey”. When the slow burn becomes a raging fire, the question as to why JT is so hell bent on helping the troubled Stephanie will be answered. 


This is a novel about guilt and redemption and this sort of plot has been done before but by Prete setting it in contemporary New York (which is rendered flawlessly) it adds an extra layer of “noir-ish”/Hardboiled sensibility to the sharp and highly tight prose. The dynamic between JT and Stephanie is hyperrealistic (you know people like this) without it being cliched. The dialog is so real that you’d think someone actually recorded these character’s conversations and merely transposed it onto the page. The character development is flawless. These people are real, not mere “characters”. 


As I said earlier, many writers can learn a lot from David Prete and the way he approached this book. It’s a page turner that never lets up. And though you might not feel so good by the novel’s conclusion, you still feel a sense of hope over the horizon. This is a must read - not only for the story but for how great novels are written. I believe I just “discovered” a new favorite contemporary author. 

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