M. J. Neary, Sirens Over the Hudson
reviewed by Alison McBain
Sirens Over the Hudson
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Date: May 18, 2017
Length: 269 pages
Probably like a lot of readers, I enjoy books set in local towns. I like to see my home turf through the eyes of someone else, and discover new things about places in my own backyard, especially if the setting is done well and smoothly incorporated into the narrative. So I was excited to open up Sirens Over the Hudson by M. J. Neary.
The book is set mostly in Tarrytown and surrounds, with a few forays into New York City. Although I’m not familiar with Tarrytown, I am familiar with towns nearby that are similar. Ms. Neary does a good job of capturing a specific set of New York commuters working in high-profile jobs but living outside the city, and their teenage children, who are either aimless druggies or overachievers who are going crazy under the pressure of living with their type-A personality parents.
There is a large cast of characters in the novel, which often trips me up a little. I sometimes have a hard time to keep track of more than, say, five character threads at a time. So the beginning was a bit confusing until I was drawn into the premise of the novel and got into the storyline. But, after that, I was hooked.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick to describing two of the main characters, although there are many relevant storylines that are developed and interwoven in addition to these two characters.
The book opens in 2008 with Gregory, a teenager in his final year of high school. Aside from playing in a band, he has little direction in life; he’s a relatively aimless child of a Wall Street executive. On the horizon are rumblings of a market crash, and while his dad is occupied with his job, Gregory takes up sleeping with their next door neighbor’s girlfriend, Cyntie. Stephen, who’s been dating Cyntie for years, is a friend of Gregory’s, but Gregory seems to have little moral compunction in going after Stephen’s girl when his friend goes off to track camp for the summer.
In this modern day and age, cheating, especially in public, is not a good idea. Cyntie and Gregory are caught on video, which is posted on social media. Stephen sees it, returns home, and beats Cyntie so badly that she ends up in the hospital with brain damage. Her dreams of studying dance in the fall at Julliard are crushed; she’s lucky to be alive. But her recovery isn’t instantaneous, and she needs a caretaker to help her while she recovers.
Unfortunately, Gregory decides to fulfill that role himself. Once Cyntie is released from the hospital, he convinces her to come with him to New York City. However, she’s not healed enough to lead a normal life or hold down a normal job. He finds them a rathole of an apartment above a club, and he works for the club owner while Cyntie slowly recovers. But when a band offers to take Gregory on tour with them, he takes them up on their offer, leaving Cyntie alone and pregnant.
The club owner’s son has had his eye on her, and he’s not above trying to sleaze his way into her life. When Cyntie has a miscarriage, he offers to take care of her. With no other options, she agrees.
A couple of years down the road, Cyntie has recovered somewhat and gotten ahold of her life again. She becomes an assistant to her old dance instructor from high school, who is now teaching disabled children at Julliard. A chance encounter at Cyntie’s workplace brings up again the horrific events of her teenage years. She has to face her past and come to terms with what happened to her, and how it changed the course of not only her career, but also her life.
In the meantime, Gregory has become involved with the protestors on Occupy Wall Street. He gets trampled and sustains a life-threatening injury, but is discovered just in the nick of time by a reporter, Natalie, an old high-school acquaintance. She’d had a crush on him for years, but he ignored her to pursue Cyntie. Now, she has the opportunity to save his life and also keep him out of jail for his underground activities. But by saving him, she might be putting many other lives at risk. Instead of treading the straight and narrow, Gregory goes further than he ever has before; he takes up with a group who are interested in his Turkish background and his sympathy with violent protests.
Eventually, a reunion between Gregory and Cyntie is inevitable. Both are set on crash courses, although it looks like one is careening out of control on his way there and taking innocent bystanders with him. When they reunite, neither of their lives will be the same ever again.
This novel ties into a lot of modern concerns, such as the destructive force of social media, the news-void and sensationalism of journalism, and the rise of terrorism. It also ties into some secondary issues of concern, such as teenagers’ destructive entitlement, drug culture, suicide, and domestic violence. A lot of heavy-hitting themes are incorporated into the storyline, although most of them are simply facts of life that the characters encounter and must deal with, rather than things that stand out in a sermonizing way. This book doesn’t preach; it tells a story, and a fascinating one.
The picture the book paints is very bleak. If trying to name the genre of this book, I’d call it a modern social apocalypse, since the relationships that are forged between the characters are destructive and without consequence. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. There really seems to be no moral reward.
This was a really fascinating read, with many interwoven threads. I felt there might be a few too many coincidences in character meetings, but I was willing to overlook that as a reader, since it moved the plot along and it fit well with the interconnected threads of the story. These coincidences didn’t feel unnatural, either, but there were maybe one or two more than were credible. However, they did make me remember that life is often like that: random meetings happen in the strangest places and at the strangest times, and they can change the course of our lives.
I really enjoyed reading Sirens Over the Hudson. It is not a light read at all, but it is a fascinating one. I hope you enjoy reading it, too.
Copyright © 2017 by Alison McBain