Brooklyn BookBeat: Author Remembers Violence, Gangs
By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
These days we associate Park Slope with beautiful brownstones, farmers' markets and affluent young families. But Brooklyn native Kevin McPartland, who spent his teen years in the South Slope, remembers a different kind of neighborhood. In his new novel “Brownstone Dreams,” McPartland brings to life the Park Slope of the 1960s – an area devoid of Bugaboo strollers and quaint cafes - where tenements, rowdy bars and schoolyards served as the battleground for belligerent teenage gangs.
“I probably wrote ‘Brownstone Dreams’ for therapy as much as anything else,” McPartland told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in a recent interview. “The novel's main character is styled after a first cousin who was more like a brother than a cousin, someone who met a violent and untimely death after years of heroin addiction. In the writing of the novel I drew from my own street experiences growing up in sixties Park Slope, as well as his.”
McPartland will be appearing in Brooklyn on Nov. 14 to read from his novel at an event titled, "Writing War: Fiction and Memoir by Veterans." The event, which is curated by New York Times editor Peter Catapano, will be held at the Old Stone House in Park Slope.
“Brownstone Dreams” is set during the summer of 1962. Bobby Dutton, a 19-year-old gang member, finds himself in a dangerous predicament after stealing a gun from Vincent Casseo, a local known for being a volatile “wise-guy.” Less-than-sober Bobby must figure out how to return the gun to Vincent without getting himself killed.
Bobby, always the optimist, believes he can get the gun back to Vincent without endangering himself. However, Bobby tends to miscalculate his circumstances—which makes “Brownstone Dreams” a thrilling story about fear, revenge and a Brooklyn neighborhood where drugs, alcohol and anger often take control of residents’ lives.
Bobby’s story comes to a head when one of his best friends is beaten up by Vincent. It’s then that Bobby’s game plan changes, and he goes on the offensive, unafraid of Vincent’s reputation or his threats and determined to avenge his friend’s beating.
McPartland says that although he remembers a neighborhood rife with violence, he grew accustomed to such volatile conditions. “I was used to the neighborhood; it was all I knew. The streets, in spite of the abundance of violence on them, were home. I was a street kid,” McPartland told the Eagle.
In fact, he recalls that he rarely wandered past Prospect Park Avenue or beyond Ninth Street, except for the occasional trip to Coney Island or Sunset Pool during the summer. “That’s pretty much the way it was,” McPartland remembers. “Strangers were not welcome in most neighborhoods, including my own.”
Though later in life, after his military enlistment, McPartland also lived in and became quite fond of Bay Ridge, he continues to value his Park Slope roots. “I consider myself very much a part of the Park Slope writing community and still visit quite often, doing much of my writing in various cafes and coffee houses throughout the Slope,” he told the Eagle. “I guess you could say things have come full circle.”
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The Nov. 14 event will begin at 8 p.m. The Old Stone House in Park Slope is located at 336 3rd St. between 4th and 5th avenues.
Kevin R. McPartland is a native Brooklynite, novelist and short story writer. His work has appeared in AIM Magazine, Grit Mag and in Adventures in Hell, an anthology of short stories by Vietnam Veterans.