In this dark, tender debut, Frank Verbeckas is a young paramedic patrolling the mean streets of Manhattan. Frank's real passion, however, is photography; he's constantly snapping pictures of injured and dead bodies while on his rounds. "I don't like healthy people," he tells his brutish partner, Burnett. Though Frank treats his photographs as just a harmless hobby, the obsession runs much deeper. What he's really after is photography's ability to give him "a clarity and precision" that he lacks in real life, where the violence of his job punctuates an ever-present loneliness. His father is dead; his mother's in another state; his surgeon brother treats him with contempt. Frank's only refuge is the homemade darkroom in his apartment, where he spends hours under the "weightless, red glow" of a safelight. His emotional numbness gets him into trouble when he joins up with Burnett and another medic to sell stolen drugs from the hospital. But his relationship with 21-year-old Emily Pascal, a fencer infected with HIV, finally shakes him out of his detachment. The doomed romance is rather sentimental (like a minimalist, edgy Love Story ), but Burke's spare prose and sharp eye for the beauty in urban misery makes this a moving tale of lost souls searching for permanence in a chaotic world. Agent, David McCormick. (Sept. 7)
Forecast: This short novel packs an emotional punch that could make it a word-of-mouth hit.
Release date: 08/01/2004