When asked how I came across Jon Chopan’s Pulled from the River, the answer is easy: Who could resist a book with a crushed up Genny Light can on the cover? It looks just like the cans under the seats of my car. The Rochester, NY that I found in the book felt just like the Rochester that I breathe in everyday.
The book is about love (non-romantic) and loss, set in this dark city full of layoffs, buildings being demolished and dominated by this muddy mass of water, the mysterious Genesee River. The first page may read: “Rochester, New York does not exist.” but any Rochesterian to pick up the book will easily feel the reality encased in Chopan’s novel. The story might be a universal tale of loss, but to people here, it is also literally recognizable.
Besides knowing what it feels like to be on the walking bridge over the Genesee or watching a Kodak building being demolished or looking at a sore on the “doping arm” of a friend, the people in this book are real. The character’s not only sound and feel like friends, sometimes they are actual people. This feels authentic to me. It doesn’t matter to the story that there is a real-life Officer Tantillo and that his name isn’t changed in Pulled from the River, for readers in this city finding people and places that they actually know, while reading a well-crafted story adds an element of excitement.
Chopan’s story is told through fragments and memories and feelings as well as letters, obituaries and death reports. The whole thing adds up to something that looks like the narrator trying to understand himself and his hometown and understand the correlation between the city and the character of its inhabitants. In there somewhere is also an attempt to understand the lag between the successes and failures of Rochester, or the dreams verses the realities. The nice thing about all of this is that it is told with enough grit to make it more than analysis. The grit and the plain reality is evident in that any reader about town will be able to remember being there or doing that.
Chopan’s writing is bold in its honesty and raw in its reality, making the reader feel the Genny bottles or smell the river or feel the cold winter air of a parking lot when a friend gets into a fight. The language used is more than unobtrusive, it adds brilliantly to create both a sense of darkness and caring for the characters and the setting. A reader in the real Rochester, NY can close the book upon completion and say: Man, Rochester can be a sad place, but it is part of me. It is my home and I love it. After reading that, maybe I can accept it the way Jon Chopan did. Jon Chopan’s crafting and layering of the words and story make Pulled from the River valuable as a piece of literature and not just a book set in Rochester, NY.
Read Pulled from the River, by Jon Chopan if you have ever known loss. Read it if you love your friends because of what you have gone through, or in spite of what you have gone through. Read it if you have ever walked along The River or sipped at a Cream Ale outside. Read it if you know about Rochester or growing up, about being a young adult. Read it if you are comfortable walking in just about anywhere in Rochester or want to be.
Chopan’s book tells his story as it tells the story of Rochester and in his honesty and in his skill he tells all of our stories.