The twelve linked stories in Joel Mowdy’s first book take place in and around Mastic Beach, a community on New York’s Long Island that’s close to the wealthy Hamptons but long afflicted by widespread poverty. Mostly in their teens and early twenties, the characters struggle to become independent in various ways, ranging from taking typical low-paying jobs — hotel laundry, janitorial, restaurant, and landscaping work — to highly ingenious schemes, to exchanging sexual favors for a place to stay. A few make it to local community colleges; others end up in rehab or juvenile detention centers. However loving, their parents can offer little help. Those who are Vietnam veterans may suffer from PTSD; others from the addictions that often come with stressful lives.
Neighborhoods of small bungalows — formerly vacation homes — with dilapidated boats in the driveways hint at the waterways that open up close by. The beauty of the ocean beach offers further consolation, as does the often high-spirited temperament of youth. Joel Mowdy brings to his affecting collection both personal experience and a gift for discerning and lingering on the essential moments in his characters’ stories. He intimately and vividly illuminates American lives that too seldom see the light.
Author: Joel Mowdy | Publisher: Catapult
Thank you to Catapult for the advanced reader’s copy of this book! It will be published on May 14th.
Floyd Harbor was a subtly moving look into the human experience of those who live in the depressed small towns of America. The writing seemed to zoom in on the most telling details without sacrificing pace or perspective, which really sucks the reader in and makes it all feel so true to life.
Each short story in this collection is a different person who lives in Floyd Harbor, but many of the same places, events, and details find their way into all of them — as you would expect in a small town! That was one of my favorite parts of the book.
I grew up in a small, working-class town in the heart of upstate New York, which made for a really interesting reading experience with this one. The small-town poverty causes a lot of the characters in Floyd Harbor to fall into drugs, into jail or the risk of it. My upbringing was privileged enough to keep me from that lifestyle, but I went to high school with plenty of people who were not in the same position. And of course, the vast majority of them are truly good people who just didn’t have the same opportunities as others. So the “inside” look at these characters’ dreams and love and experiences hit close to my heart, making me feel simultaneously more separate from and closer to those I’d grown up alongside. I didn’t even realize that I had needed that.
This collection isn’t long — it drops you into this world, says the damn thing, and then spits you back out subtly changed.