Novel portrays ’60s Brooklyn amidst Vietnam War backdrop
Shifting between 1960s Brooklyn and Vietnam, Jim McGinty’s novel “Right to Kill: A Brooklyn Tale” begins with a scene on the Culver Line subway train, which “snaked through Brooklyn on an elevated steel platform that disfigured the otherwise tranquil neighborhood of Gravesend.” McGinty tells the story of Sean Cercone, a law student who makes his way from Gravesend to Marine officer training and eventually to brutal combat in Quang Tri, Vietnam.
Despite the heavy subject matter and shifting locales, McGinty paints a vivid portrait of Brooklyn through his street-smart characters and their neighborhood routines. Sean and his friends, for instance, consider touch football in Brooklyn to be a “brutal game, played much the same as regular football except that there was no protective equipment and the playing field was concrete.”
Sean, when describing the history of Gravesend to another character, notes that the neighborhood was once home a large population of Tories during the revolution. He explains that during the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, “a whole bunch of Italians, some Jews, and a few Irish got themselves out of the tenements in lower Manhattan to settle in Gravesend. The place became another Brooklyn neighborhood laced with tree-lined streets, attached houses, and great people.”
One of McGinty’s characters – a student at Brooklyn College – even works part-time as a copy editor for the Brooklyn Eagle. Beyond Gravesend, McGinty depicts such other areas as Coney Island and Brighton Beach – and while the intensity of the Vietnam War pervades his novel, McGinty manages to weave in elements of humor and romance.
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