After reading Ivy Pochoda’s masterful debut novel, it’s clear why Dorchester-born mystery writer Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) chose to publish “Visitation Street” under his eponymous imprint. Pochoda shares Lehane’s unique ability to bring gritty urban streetscapes to life, depicting hardscrabble characters with dignity, even redemption. “Visitation Street” follows a group of characters with limited economic opportunities as they struggle with loss, the instability of their lives, and the everyday challenges of staying safe in a neighborhood where violence lurks around every street corner.
Pochoda sets her mystery in Red Hook, Brooklyn, a place of urban blight rife with class and racial conflict but also a close-knit community where people know each other’s business. Where some might see hopelessness and ingrained, transgenerational poverty, Pochoda sees human drama constantly unfolding as her characters seek to craft better lives despite woefully limited prospects. Pochoda evokes a certain grim lyricism for a place she once lived and where residents make do with what they have: “makeshift shelters, concrete foundations with tarps as roofs, shipping containers with laundry lines strung across their short ends, and shopping carts for storage. Battered chairs . . . Trash rolls like tumbleweed.” Shangri-La this isn’t.