Rockaway is the very new novel by Tara Ison. I had not heard of her or any of her books before, and was pleased that my book club made this our next selection. We actually chose it from Oprah Magazine’s “Best Books of Summer” feature. And this book is about a summer-specifically the summer of 2001 which the protagonist, an artist named Sarah, spends in a borrowed house in Rockaway, Queens.
Sarah has been an unsuccessful artist. At 35, she works in an art supply store in her hometown of LaJolla, California. She lives in a dreary apartment, and spends much of her time caring for her not-so-elderly parents. A local gallery owner offers Sarah the possibility of a show based on some old paintings of hers. But the gallery owner wishes to exhibit only current works by the more mature Sarah. With the help of a childhood friend, Sarah relocates temporarily to Rockaway for inspiration and time alone to paint.
At first, this scenario strains credibility. I’ve been to LaJolla, and I’ve been to Rockaway. If I were an artist, I couldn’t imagine a more inspiring landscape/seascape than LaJolla.(see photos above-take your pick!) But it soon becomes clear that Sarah’s need is more than inspiring scenery. She needs to break free of her needy, depressed parents and follow her own vision. This is not easy for her, as she is immature, unfocused, self-centered and has a serious, unacknowledged drinking problem.
Sarah is judgmental, and really unable to connect meaningfully with other people. Sarah procrastinates, makes excuses for her lack of productivity, and consoles herself with alcohol. Not a pretty picture.It’s tough to empathize with Sarah, until we learn more about her family background, and how childhood events have shaped her adult life.
Rockaway is a quick and easy read, but definitely has more depth than the usual summer beach book.
Published in softcover-Soft Skull Press-2013