A Place in Life
Hartstein’s first novel is a rambling, semiautobiographical tale of a man trying so hard to survive that he loses sight of what’s truly important in life. As the story opens, it’s 1952 and six-year-old Joey is living in a New York City tenement. Almost immediately, he loses both parents—his mother to a runaway car, his father in the Korean War—and is shipped off to California to live with an abusive aunt and uncle. After enduring his teen years, Joey, now Joe, enlists in the Marine Corps and is shipped off to Vietnam, coming back with a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and PTSD. Upon his return, Joe reconnects with a high school friend and they marry. The couple has two sons—but instead of devoting his life to his family, Joe throws himself into work and nearly loses everyone dear to him. Can Joe finally let go of old resentments, or will they keep him hostage for the rest of his life? Hartstein has a gift for creating fully realized, sympathetic characters, but his plot meanders and the novel—particularly the ending—suffers for it.