Ten Thousand Saints

Orlando Weekly | July 6, 2011
The power of "Ten Thousand Saints" may not be in its plot but in its cultural locus: The story of a lost and unloved teenager is a million times told (though Eleanor Henderson's telling is not stale), but the setting, New York's East Village in the late '80s, is sacred ground. The beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the rise of straight-edge hardcore, the struggle of disenfranchised citizens to find a place in an ever-more-expensive city: in other words, battles on the verge of being spectacularly lost. Hence Henderson's valedictory tone as she limns the coming of age of four unparented children and their feckless begetters, the hippie generation unraveling into middle age while Gen-X wound itself tight.

Blurbed by Ann Patchett ("Bel Canto") and Dean Wareham (Luna, Galaxie 500), "Ten Thousand Saints" arrives with the most rarefied of bona fides – anointed by both fiction and music royalty. Yet for all its satisfying heft, its deft characterizations, there's a whiff of the book club about it. A grab bag of capital-I Issues is shoehorned in, as though Henderson had researched rather than experienced, say, tattoos or squats or bong-packing. That faint whiff of inauthenticity is more than offset, though, by piercing sensory descriptions of the experiences we all have: cold weather, adolescent makeout sessions, walking through a new neighborhood, betrayal by (or of) someone you love. The book's brief coda, set almost 20 years later, sets the faded seal of mere nostalgia on what was world-shaking at the time.

Orlando Weekly

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