Rockaway: A Novel

Rockaway: A Novel

by Tara Ison

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Rockaway Beach, 2001. Sarah, a painter from southern California, retreats to this eccentric, eclectic beach town in the far reaches of Queens with the hopes of rediscovering her passion for painting. Sarah has the opportunity for a real gallery showing if only she can create some new and interesting work. There, near the beach, she hopes to escape a life


Rockaway Beach, 2001. Sarah, a painter from southern California, retreats to this eccentric, eclectic beach town in the far reaches of Queens with the hopes of rediscovering her passion for painting. Sarah has the opportunity for a real gallery showing if only she can create some new and interesting work. There, near the beach, she hopes to escape a life caught in the stasis of caregiving for her elderly parents and working at an art supply store to unleash the artist within. One summer, a room filled with empty canvasses, nothing but possibility.

There she meets Marty, an older musician from a once-popular band whose harmonies still infuse the summertime music festivals. His strict adherence to his music and to his Jewish faith will provoke unexpected feelings in Sarah and influence both her time there and her painting.

Rockaway is a time capsule love letter to a quirky, singular town, in a time before an entire community was brought to its knees in the events about to occur in September 2001, and to an entire town that faced tragedy again when it was summarily devastated eleven years later by Hurricane Sandy. It is the startling new fiction by a writer praised by

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A single, 34-year-old artist frets about her talent, nurses a drinking problem, and embarks on a nonrelationship with a man more than 20 years her senior in Ison’s thin third novel (after The List). When Sarah flees her clingy parents and stagnant life in Southern California to spend the summer of 2001 housesitting in Rockaway Beach, in the borough of Queens, New York, her future looks full of promise. With expensive tubes of paints and carefully stretched canvases in tow, she vows to dedicate her time to art. But after days (and too many pages) turn into weeks of staring at the walls and downing various alcoholic beverages, Sarah has nothing to show for her time but a pale sketch of a shell. A tentative affair with aging, kosher-keeping rocker Marty and a trip to see a friend in Connecticut (new mother Emily) prove equally unremarkable, except for a bizarre, out-of-place moment when Sarah is pressured to practice breastfeeding her friend’s child. By the end of this haphazard tale, readers will be wondering if Sarah has finally achieved her artistic breakthrough, or just a nervous breakdown after one too many glugs from a bottle of cooking sherry. Agent: Emma Sweeney, Harold Ober Associates. (June)
From the Publisher

Praise for Rockaway

“In Ison’s poetic depiction, Rockaway is equal parts tourist trap and salt-sprayed idyll, where beachgoers frolic in the shadow of some potent dramatic irony: the reader’s awareness of the devastation soon to arrive across the river makes for an unsettling countdown…Ison possesses a surfeit of wit and an especial knack for upending love story conventions…as the narrative swirls to a stylish and startling end.” —The New York Times Book Review

“In Rockaway‘s narrative passages Ms. Ison’s prose style is lovely and in places lyrical…[Sarah] is an engagingly complex character readers will hope to see more of..” —New York Journal of Books

“How tragic that this book —set in a Queens, New York, beach town that in real life was devastated by Sandy —has a new relevance. Sarah is a California painter who’s come east for a retreat she hopes will revive her artistic passion. It’s a sheer joy to stay in the company of Ison’s voice. There’s an unlikely relationship at the center, the kind of encounter that could happen only in the summertime suspension of ‘ordinary’ life.” —Karen Russell, O Magazine

“Tara Ison is one of the premiere stylists of her generation, and on every page of Rockaway she writes sentences that are elegant and rich. Casually sensual in ways that will curl your toes, Ison refuses to look away from the ramifications of that same dark eroticism unleashed. It's no exaggeration to say Rockaway is pretty much perfect — a meditation on art, aloneness, ambition, love, religion, and the unknowable and unquenchable thirst that is human desire. Just start reading. You won't stop.” —Charles Bock

“Here is a young woman at the end of her leash, the end of her youth, the edge of her art, not doing a melancholy artist-on-the-beach thing, but confronting the many true colors of her life in this beautiful and dangerous season. Tara Ison's Rockaway is a stirring, fresh look at a tough passage.” —Ron Carlson

Rockaway is an illuminating inquiry into the nature of love, the meaning of art, the power of faith and family, and how grace is discovered in the most unexpected places —a stunning, modern echo of Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse with a uniquely brilliant voice.” —Emily Rapp

Rockaway is a novel that embraces everything: love, art, friendship, faith, and the mystery of why we create the lives we do, with prose that is breathtaking, clear, and elegant. Sarah and Marty and Emily are depicted with honesty that is utterly riveting. This is a beautiful gem of a book." —Karen E. Bender

“Written in language that is utterly liquid, Rockaway inhabits the poetry of a woman fiercely searching for identity. Here, we find an illuminating meditation on the art of being, with the true revelation suggesting that perhaps we were never lost at all. A triumphant reclamation of the soul.” —Ilie Ruby

Kirkus Reviews
A troubled woman from San Diego travels to Rockaway, N.Y., to make art and finds herself instead. Mumblecore was coined to describe a type of film often peopled with 20-something nonprofessional actors who portray inarticulate characters with low self-esteem, poor luck in love and difficulty growing up. This book is representative of contemporary fiction with similar tropes. At 35, Sarah is older than the typical mumblecore cohort—but how she struggles. When a dealer promises an exhibition, she quits her job in San Diego and moves East for the summer, taking up residence in her old friend Emily's grandmother Pearl's large home in Rockaway. Her plan is to escape her needy, aging parents and paint a show's worth of pictures. Nana Pearl is out of the house, recovering from hip-replacement surgery, but a Sri Lankan couple, Avery and Bernadette, remain as caretakers, their cooking and too-loud talk disturbing the fragile, guilt-ridden artiste. Sarah meets older men Julius and Marty, the former an uncle of Emily. Sarah goes out with Julius, a blowhard banker, and then with Marty, a self-absorbed old rock-and-roll type recently returned to his Jewish roots. Marty invites her to Passover with his orthodox friends and to Rye, N.Y., for a reunion concert with his old band. Sarah stays briefly with her friend, pregnant Emily, wife of a banker, who lives the life of a luxurious hippie on an estate in Connecticut. The resolution is consistent with the rest of the book: It is all about Sarah's feelings. Mumblecore fiction—a fiction of very low expectations—from Ison (The List, 2007, etc.), co-writer of the film Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead.

Product Details

Soft Skull Press, Inc.
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

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Meet the Author

Tara Ison is the author of A Child Out of Alcatraz, a Finalist for the LA Times Book Prize, and The List. Her short fiction and essays have been in Tin House, The Kenyon Review,, Publishers Weekly, and numerous anthologies. She is currently Assistant Professor of Fiction at Arizona State University and in another life, co-wrote the cult film Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead.

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