cover image Brookland


Emily Barton, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25 (478pp) ISBN 978-0-374-11690-3

A poignant tale of sisters who run a gin distillery in late 18th-century Brooklyn frames Barton's stalwart, evocative second novel, centering on early attempts at building a bridge across the East River to Manhattan. The Winship family—Matty, Roxana and their three daughters, Prue, Pearl and Tem—establish a distillery on the eastern bank of the East River in colonial days, weathering Revolutionary loyalties and brutish conditions. Practical oldest daughter Prue is trained in the working of the distillery and proves the prefeminist visionary, keeping an eye toward building a kind of springboard between Manhattan and Brookland, as the cluster of communities on that side of the river are called. Barton's richly detailed narrative assumes the form of letters Prue writes to her grown married daughter, Recompense, who is expecting her first child, and asks about the history of the failed "bridgeworks" in order to fill in troubling gaps about the family. Indeed, once Prue takes over the distillery after her father's death and marries, the building of the bridge becomes an idée fixe, to which she sacrifices the happiness of sister Pearl and the reputation of her husband. Following The Testament of Yves Gundron , Barton fashions an enchanting saga for her sophomore effort; it is a major New York book of the season. (Mar.)