University of Wisconsin Press
192 pp. 5.5 x 8.5
Hart Island has served as a potter’s field for more than a century, holding over a million indigent, unclaimed, or unknown New Yorkers’ bodies—and yet it is little-known even among locals. In this absorbing and elegiac story, on this island shaped like a miniature boot of Italy, Gary Zebrun explores overlapping connections of family, crime, sexuality, and human decency.
Driven out of the Coast Guard during the days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Sal Cusumano hauls coffins to Hart Island with a burial crew of Rikers Island inmates and guards. Only there can he fully leave his family troubles on Staten Island behind: Justin, his adopted brother and lover; his mother, Ida, slipping rapidly into dementia; the memory of Francesco, his father, a bookie gunned down on his stoop; and his brother Antony, a Manhattan homicide detective moonlighting with the mob. But the island ceases to be his sanctuary after Antony ensnares him—and others—in a crime that involves a nocturnal visit to the potter’s field.
This compelling and intricately plotted novel moves through the shadows as its characters yearn for belonging and forgiveness. Set on the eve of the COVID pandemic, it is part love story, part crime novel, and part mystery.
“Beautiful, atmospheric, cunningly plotted. From the opening pages, I was transported into Sal Cusumano’s world as he makes his way back and forth to Hart Island, between the living and the dead. I couldn’t wait to discover what would happen next in this world full of violence and unexpected tenderness.”
“Hart Island has all the pleasures of a thriller and expertly designed detective story, while it’s also the history of an arresting and forgotten place, a meditation on grief and the crisis of faith, a testament to loyalty and compassion, and a heartening celebration of the redemptive resilience of love.”
—Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron
“Zebrun’s writing is always clear, economical, and powerful. Hart Island effortlessly shows how place shapes destiny, how characters become who they are because of where they live and the secrets they keep—and confess.”
—Peter Grimes, editor of Pembroke Magazine
“Surprisingly meditative, Hart Island is ambitious and luminous.”
—Jennifer S. Davis, editor of We Were Angry
Background photo courtesy of The Hart Island Project, ©2004 Melinda Hunt and Courtesy of The Hart Island Project, ©2017 Alon Sicherman l-vision.