Kio Stark’s first novel, Follow Me Down, is the story of Lucy, a young woman who flees the struggles of a drug-addicted brother for a neighborhood of New York where “…there are bodegas and men loitering on the corners, teenagers taunting each other. Sometimes what you want is to be somewhere you do not belong.” Withdrawn and melancholy, Lucy is most comfortable among strangers, observing rather than revealing, and evades new lover Jimmy’s questions about her past: “Being known is what most people want, but it makes me want to run.”
Lucy collects old plastic toy film cameras, photographs the neighborhood’s buildings, fenced lots, fouled canal. “Never people,” Jimmy says. But Lucy hears her neighbors’ stories too: There’s the fireman retired by a fall through a roof; the Mayor of the block, who’s lived there thirty years, and sips his coffee barefoot on the sidewalk. And of course, Dealer on his corner. Dealer’s management, never drunk on the job, and when one of his boys says of Lucy, “She got a fine ass on her,” Dealer knocks the boy’s hat off his head. “Don’t talk about her that way. She nice.”
One evening Lucy finds in her mail an envelope addressed to Hombre Cinco. The stamp is years out of date, the cancelling marks illegible, the address a now-vacant lot where a building burned. Lucy debates: “I stare at the stove. It would be so simple. But a little steam, and you’re a felon.” Her phone rings, and she pins the envelope to her fridge with a magnet, where it’s lost again among the scraps, notes, postcards: “It works the wrong way, I always forget. Display a thing and it becomes invisible.” When Jimmy notices it, Lucy tells him it’s a wrong number, she’s forgotten to return it to the post office. Jimmy says he will. She snatches it from him.
Inevitably, Lucy opens the envelope, and finds it contains only an old photo of a young man. On the back, someone has written He has it. Of course, this piques her curiosity, and Lucy begins trying to learn who this man was, what it was he had. She consults a nearly omniscient librarian, wears a red dress to charm a City Clerk. Others are less accommodating, their responses ominous: Soon Dealer wants to know why she’s poking around ‘his’ lot, and soon after, two cops warn her away as well. But her need to learn what happened there, what’s become of the man in the photo has become a compulsion Lucy recognizes as such but cannot dismiss: “What I see is how like animals we are, every one of us. We do things, we are compelled to, we can’t stop, we don’t know why.”
Like Lucy, Stark is an attentive, thoughtful observer. Her prose is spare, elegant, her insights resonant, characterization well-crafted: Lucy is complex and compelling– Guilty and grieving for her brother, self-aware enough to recognize obsession, but unable to step back from its growing dangers. Readers of Stark’s blog Municipal Archive will recognize many of the supporting cast, and like MA, Follow Me Down is great reading. An impressive first novel, highly recommended. Trade paperback, $13.95, available from Red Lemonade.
About Kio Stark:
When she is not writing fiction, Kio Stark writes about relational technology and teaches at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, a graduate program for geeks, hackers, and artists. She has written about feminism, NYC night court, the history of documentary, graphic novels, failure and her favorite saints for The Nation, Killing the Buddha, Feed, Lime Teaand other publications and wrote the introduction to Least Wanted: A Century of American Mugshots, a collection of vernacular police photography. She spent a racetrack season in Miami interviewing old thugs for her doctoral work in American Studies at Yale. She talks to strangers and lives in Brooklyn with her partner, inventor Bre Pettis.
About Mark Reep:
Mark Reep is an artist and writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Art Collector, Endicott Journal, Moon Milk Review, Metazen, Prick of the Spindle, Blue Fifth Review, Smash Cake, Used Furniture Review, Postcard Stories, Gloom Cupboard, and Fictionaut Selects. He edits Ramshackle Review, and lives in New York’s Finger Lakes region.