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Lelya Dorche and the Coney Island Cure


Worth reading 😎

Solid, engaging reminder of life in the first days of COVID, blended with an intriguing tale of folk medicine and East European immigrants.

It's a question many writers must have pondered in the past three years - how to deal with the seismic events that have been the universally-shared experience of the Covid-19 Pandemic. In tackling the subject head-on, making it the key driver of his narrative, Rothman has at least sidestepped the question over whether to have masks and social distancing as background features of their fictional world. What's left then, is the matter of using something so huge and, for so many, tragic for the basis of a work of fiction.

Rothman's take, however, doesn't overstep in terms of taste. In fact, one strength his novel possesses is a particular blessing in this instance. There are a number of times during the novel where Rothman makes the less dramatic choice and, in doing so, creates something more authentic. It sounds damning with faint praise, to speak of less dramatic choices, but so often, in choosing to ramp things up, authors end up drowning in absurdities of their own making. Rothman's tale is as much, if not more, about the emotional journeys of his characters as it is about the events he describes. Protagonist Andrew's feelings of ineffectiveness in the face of this huge event are made all the more authentic for the limited reach of his own actions. Not that he doesn't end up doing far more than you or I might in his place (or did, in our own experience of the pandemic), but the feel of Rothman's hands on the reins gives his readers the ability to trust where his story is taking us.

There are moments of high drama, of course. Rothman doesn't fall short of giving us a compelling story. He also paints a realistic picture of everyday life in the pandemic - the signs on tables outside restaurants stressing take-out only; the suspicion of other people, especially when they cough; the empty streets; the illicit meet-ups and the endless zoom calls.

Rothman's central characters are believable, their atypical backgrounds intriguing (I don't recall ever reading a book about Bulgarian immigrants in the US before), their relationships tangible and relatable - there's a remarkable piece just pages before the end where a conversation that has been loving turns for a moment towards irritation and, that close to the end, with most writers that would be portentous, but here it's just realistic. The end of the story doesn't mean these characters are all suddenly in some fixed, complete state. They're still wonderfully human.

Compelling then, well-written and authentic. If not explosively gripping or genre-redefiningly brilliant, still very enjoyable and worthy of praise.

Reviewed by

I'm a writer based in Norfolk, UK - Playtime's Over (Propolis) and Greyskin (Deixis Press). I also self-publish sci-if as Ray Adams. I'm looking to expand my skills as a writer and use my love of literature as a basis for becoming a reviewer.


About the author

David Rothman teaches writing for the City University of New York. A novella, The Lower East Side Tenement Reclamation Association, won A fiction prize and was published in 2020. A short story, “Guided by Voices” won a fiction prize with Glimmer Train. He is the drummer for the band, The Edukators, view profile

Published on July 18, 2023

Published by Madville Publishing

80000 words

Genre: Literary Fiction

Reviewed by