The Gypsies of New Rochelle is a charming new novel by Ivan Jenson. It follows the Aldridges, an eccentric family, as they attempt to launch the music career of their talented daughter Nora and make it big in New York.
Set in 1980, Gypsies shows us a grittier version of New York City than exists today. The Aldridges call themselves gypsies because they move around so often, rootless and always looking for the next adventure. Shawn, the youngest child of the family, narrates the book. Family is at the heart of Gypsies. The book trafficks mostly in the day-to-day life of the Aldridges, a small caravan of well-drawn out characters. Jenson revels in the small dramas of the Aldridges: pranks played, petty squabbles between siblings, and their dealings with Carey Casey, the exasperated producer who has to answer their questions.
Jenson captures a unique large family dynamic, something which is hard to do well. Shawn’s family is full of odd, vibrant characters, each with their own shtick: his overbearing parents, who pressure sister Nora to become a concert violinist. A cousin, Pito, is brainwashed by hippies in Manhattan and must be rescued. Shawn is catapulted to momentary fame when his brother Jarrett, builds a flying contraption and dares Shawn to get on. Each character has their own arc, all weaving together beautifully to create a blended picture of family life.
There’s so much going on in Gypsies, it’s hard to summarize the plot. Shawn notes that as a sculptor, he tends to build so much onto his work that his pieces collapse in on themselves. This book is almost like that: so stuffed with unconnected plots that it seems in danger of collapsing on itself at any moment. However, if you trust Jenson, everything connects in the end, a magnificent balancing act. The book does have an ambling pace at times, but you won’t regret the slow turns. Jenson crams vivacity, wit and charm into every one of the book’s 300 pages.
The Gypsies of New Rochelle is now out in paperback, available at Michelkin Press.