Visitation Street

Visitation Street

by Ivy Pochoda


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One scorching summer night, two teenage girls decide to take a trip on a homemade raft. They disappear in the bay, and only one of them is later found, unconscious. Jonathan, the girls’ teacher, is determined to uncover the girl’s deepest sins and secrets.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594661900
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/15/2014
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,149,652
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Ivy Pochoda is an American novelist and journalist. Her work appears in The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Huffington Post. Visitation Street was named an Amazon Best Book in 2013 and was included on the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers list.

What People are Saying About This

Dennis Lehane

Visitation Street is urban opera writ large. Gritty and magical, filled with mystery, poetry and pain, Ivy Pochoda’s voice recalls Richard Price, Junot Diaz, and even Alice Sebold, yet it’s indelibly her own.”


A Conversation with Ivy Pochoda, Author of Visitation Street

When and why did you decide to write Visitation Street? Tell us about your process of book writing.

I used to live in Red Hook, Brooklyn across from a bar called the Bait & Tackle. Even in the winter when the doors were closed, the noise from the bar filtered into my apartment. The bar's neon sign flashed into my windows. So it seemed easier to spend time at the Bait & Tackle than being teased by it from across the street. Needless to say, I spent a considerable amount of time in his bar. Some might argue too much.

During that time, my agent had sent my first novel, The Art of Disappearing onto a third round of submissions, and there wasn't much good news from that department. (Again, more time in the bar.) So I decided to begin a new book to pass the time until my first book sold. I was at a loss as to what to write. When I asked my mother's advice, she said, "Write about what's going on outside your window." I'm not sure she expected me to take her so literally. I began to describe the Bait & Tackle's regulars, their interactions, the mix of race and age—everything that made the place so strange and, at least to me, wonderful. I also wanted to make sense, or rather, make something beautiful out of way too many late nights and early mornings spent at the bar.

Soon I was opening the story up, first moving it outside the bar to the four businesses on the intersection in front of my house, then further into the neighborhood—first down to the waterfront then back into the Red Hook Houses. It took me a long time to figure out a story to unite the unique and lonely souls who found their ways onto my pages.

Are any of the characters based on people you've known? What real-life events inspired your novel?

Many characters in Visitation Street were inspired by people who passed by outside my window or pulled up a stool in the Bait & Tackle. But as I wrote, these characters strayed further and further from their place (or rather person) of origin. They changed age and gender. They acquired attributes of people I'd known growing up. A sixty-year-old corrections officer became an eighteen-year-old high school student. And while I'm sure people in Red Hook will look for their friends or themselves on these pages, my intention was that they will only find a ghost or a suggestion.

Since I grew up in Brooklyn, there's going to be some overlap between my life and what happens in my novel. But I didn't consciously draw on any real life events when I wrote. I was more interested in recreating the atmosphere both of Red Hook and of my childhood in Cobble Hill on the other side of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Since I began writing in the summer, I immediately was drawn to those cruel New York heat waves of my youth, those long summer days that filled me with the restless and foolish desire to grow up fast in order to find something interesting to do.

Your book subtly hits upon distinctions and clashes amongst many different classes living within the same diverse neighborhood. Did you set out to highlight this in your book? Or did it just naturally happen in writing about a place such as Red Hook?

It would have been dishonest and difficult to write about Red Hook without immediately highlighting the different races and classes living there. It's physically impossible to go about your business without being brought into contact with a diverse range of people—longtime residents of the Houses, old waterfront types, artsy newcomers, and the first wave of moneyed gentrifiers. It is quite a small neighborhood and has, or had, few communal meeting spots. So bars and the parks (which were the primary gathering points when I lived there) were filled with people from all corners of the community. Initially, simply being a resident of Red Hook was enough to draw people together under one roof to drink, shop, or hang out. But while alcohol and the pursuit of a good time can good equalizers for a little while, after a while cultural fault lines being to show.

You recently moved from Brooklyn to L.A. Did you find it difficult to complete this Brooklyn-based novel while living elsewhere? Or was it easier to finish from a distance?

I had written four chapters of Visitation Street before I moved to Los Angeles. And I felt incredibly guilty writing not simply a Brooklyn novel from the West Coast, but more specifically, a Red Hook novel. Red Hook is such a small, tight community and those who live there take an immense about of pride in the neighborhood. I couldn't help but feel like something of a traitor for leaving and from writing about it from the outside. In fact, I felt as if I'd forfeited my claim upon the neighborhood when I left.
So in the first draft of the novel, I invented my own name for Red Hook—Dutch Basin—and I changed many of the names of the streets and the parks. This made it easier for me to write. I could invent the neighborhood as I pleased and escape the collective Red Hook voice in my head that told me, "You're getting it wrong!" But when I was done I realized that community I'd written about in Visitation Street was so clearly Red Hook that it seemed silly not to use the actual name of the neighborhood and its streets. The only intentional change I retained in the final draft is in the namesake street Visitation, which is actually called Pioneer Street. Visitation Place is one block east of Pioneer, but I couldn't resist the haunting resonance of the title, so I swapped the street names. It's a minor alteration, but it makes me feel that the Red Hook of my book is somehow my own.

Who have you discovered lately?

I recently moved to downtown Los Angeles and discovered the much overlooked writer John Fante who wrote about the no longer existent neighborhood of Bunker Hill not too far from where I live. His most famous novel, Ask the Dust is not just a raw and riveting story, but an wonderful cultural document, depicting a gritty, urban Los Angeles neighborhood filled with lowlifes, immigrants, and those dreaming of a success on a grand scale—not unlike Red Hook in Brooklyn.

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