By: Brad Windhauser
Published by: Black Rose Writing
Reviewed by: Abigail Shaffer
What strikes me most about this multi point-of-view novel is the care, balance, and grace of the details. The Intersection follows the lives of several residents of a rapidly-gentrifying South Philly neighborhood, as pressure co mpounds between the new and existing residents over the direction and inevitable development the neighborhood will take. The tensions bubble to the surface when an African American cyclist is struck at a central intersection by a white driver, with the only witness a young girl on her way home from school. As the cyclist fights for his life in the hospital, the energy of the community begins to foment in ways that Rose, longtime resident and hopeful optimist more likely to see a brutal wind as “God’s leafblower” than a negative challenge, fears the growing discord will irrevocably damage the neighborhood forever. Inclined towards a desire for harmony, and with bravery that tests her strength and belief in herself, Rose boldly organizes a community meeting at a newly-opened hipster bar situated in the heart of the roiling neighborhood. It is at this meeting where broader community concerns – will the old residents’ ways of life get left behind, will the new residents ever be accepted and feel at home, will the community come together and thrive – blend together, bound by the very private and personal fears, hopes, and aspirations of the individuals making up the community.
This blending of individual concerns into a interwoven tapestry of community desires also exemplifies another strength of the novel. There are no literal black-and-whites here, no harsh dichotomies. Rather, Windhauser illuminates the greys. Nothing is as simple as the surface impressions but is impacted, and is, in fact, driven by what lies underneath. Nathan, a longtime resident, supports the change because he hopes the new direction will bring in money and improvements that will mean better schools and care for his son. Carol, the mother of the cyclist, does not want her son to be made into a symbol and used to further either side’s agenda – she just wants him home, safe, and alive. At the same time, the white driver, Michael, questions his decision to purchase a home in the neighborhood for more personal reasons than even he is aware, until a fateful pre-dawn walk through the sleeping community.
Change, and how people adapt or resist to change, is another theme throughout the novel, as is the subtle strength of Windhauser’s creation of character. Shaping character often involves nuance, and the strength of Windhauser’s fleshing out of characters lies in the deftness of detail. It is in the detail of imagery and language that we come to know his characters, through the feeling of cracked pleather on Nathan’s legs as he grapples with omnipresent fears of how he will care, as a single parent, for his special needs son. We get to know the characters intimately through how they fold clothes at the laundry mat, through how they make their way in the grey morning light, through how the soil from a newly-potted plant feels on the palms of their hands. No heavy-handed stock characters here: dear Rose with her empathy and infinite kindness wrought from tragedy; Michael shadowed by guilt, betrayal, and isolation; Carol with her past finally circling round while she struggles to cope with her son’s critical injury — these individuals’ experiences and deep private pain coalesce in a sense of shared humanity, of commonality. We get to know, we feel, their private pain and how, underneath their public personas, a well of emotions, experiences, and desires simultaneously feeds and drains the characters as they traverse their merging paths.
Editor’s note: Abigail Shaffer’s novel, Children of the Country, was recently reviewed in Best New Fiction.