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From the much-praised author of Krazy Kat and The Death of Che Guevara, the tumultuous story of a group of friends growing up idealistic, radical, and romantic in the sixties and seventies.
We enter their lives in 1960 as a sixth-grade class of Great Neck kids—most of them Jewish—learns for the first time, in horrifying detail, about the Holocaust, with its moral imperative to “make justice” in the world. When the older brother of one of the students is murdered in Mississippi during Freedom Summer, they think they have found their mission, and when they receive letters from him seemingly written after his death, a heady mystical dimension is added that impels them into the civil rights and peace movements, joining their lives to a multitude of others.
Among the huge cast of characters: a boy-genius comic-book artist, who transforms their gang into Superheroes. The lovely long-legged sister of the boy who was murdered and the brilliant kid brother of the black activist killed with him. The gay son of a wealthy art collector, who introduces his friends to the wild and sometimes dangerous New York art scene. The beautiful daughter of a Holocaust survivor, who joins the ultraradical Weathermen; the quantum physics whiz and Christian mystic who becomes her bomb-maker; and a Black Power leader, who will accompany her and others into their last and most extreme act.
Great Neck brings us inside privileged Long Island childhoods and into the churches and juke joints and jails of Mississippi, into underground meetings and protest marches fueled by a potent mix of sex, politics, and drugs. It reminds us of the optimism, courage, and dangerous dreams of a generation who sometimes seemed to think they must be superheroes. Above all, Great Neck is the compelling portrait of complex, appealing young men and women shaping and being shaped by the momentous events of their time.
"A bold and penetrating novelist dedicated to exploring the psychology of revolution, Jay Cantor works on a Tolstoyan scale as he maps a historic time of violent and necessary change, and illuminates the evolving psyches of a diverse cast of compelling characters as deeply affected by the legacies of anti-Semitism and racism as by their involvement in a many-faceted, epic struggle for justice. Thirteen years in the making, this is a virtuosic work of heart and genius, a great, singing web of a novel." —Donna Seaman, Booklist
“A big, brilliant social novel . . . Cantor does with language what a geologist does with transparencies, setting one page upon the other, so you can see through a tunnel of time . . . From nonviolence to the Black Panthers to something resembling the Symbionese Liberation Army, Cantor’s characters are everywhere, illustrating modes of political engagement from innocence to experience to exhaustion.” —Leslie Brody, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“An amazing achievement . . . hugely entertaining . . . painted with minute and careful strokes and subtle colors . . . Mr. Cantor captures this culture and these distinct lives with astonishing affection and detail, with imaginative humor and a nuanced intellectual mastery: He’s one of those rare writers who can show credible lives infused with actual ideas . . . The town Mr. Cantor has created [is] a real and unforgettable place: Mr. Cantor’s language, wit, historical intelligence, technical skill and far-reaching literary philosophy have made it so.” —Vince Passaro, The New York Observor
“The great American novel . . . A ‘Comedie Humaine’ for the American suburbs . . . [Great Neck has a] rococo, encyclopedic, empire of a plot. Readers are whisked at warp speed from a Long Island junior high to Harvard, Boston SDS houses to Mississippi courthouses, psychiatrists’ couches to cornfields, prisons to protest marches . . . Great Neck has a Trollopian range—heartbreak to hilarity. And the style is richly allusive and splendidly sardonic . . . reading this novel is trippy and exhilarating, like defusing a bomb while skateboarding. It’s real American literature as the likes of Melville understood it.” —Diane Roberts, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"I'd rather read Great Neck than go there! Jay Cantor has the soul of a Delta bluesman, the mind of a high energy particle physicist, and the glands of a teenage comic book whiz kid. I became instantly infatuated with every member of the Band of Outsiders, each beautifully flawed and beautifully human, and stand-ins for an entire generation caught up in one America's most chaotic eras. They became even more flesh and blood to me than Clark Kent or Peter Parker. Great Neck is a literary neutron bomb, a multi-layered, polyrhythmic, pulsing, sustained explosion of talent. History, fantasy, comedy and social reality are so effortlessly blended that one wonders if Cantor isn't really a super hero masquerading as a great artist. It annoys me when people are unjustifiably called originals: Jay Cantor really is one. He is a mad comic genius, easily in the class of Gaddis, Gass and Pynchon. Great Neck is a rare delight, well worth the wait.” —Randall Kenan
“Great Neck is a wonderful novel, deserving of every minute spent with the many revelations folded within the energy and brilliance of its pages. In his re-creation of the Sixties, Jay Cantor has constructed a stunning epic, rich in its comic turns, yet fully invested in the political and personal consequences that mark his characters forever. With historical and emotional accuracy, Great Neck looks back to deliver us to the present with its harsh truths, memories, and longing.” —Maureen Howard
“Great Neck is a brilliantly confrontational novel that comes at us straight-on and sideways as we enter the characters’ minds to take an emphatically disorienting roller coaster ride that dips into the always anxiety-provoking terrain of race and class in America. And if that’s not enough, Jay Cantor has created a character who intermittently (and ironically) re-casts their struggles as comics. It’s an impressive performance: part fact, part fiction—as everyday life in America always is.” —Ann Beattie