Sunday, September 8, 2019
By Timothy Brandoff
Akashic Books 2019
224 pages Literary
New York in 1974. Cornelius Sky (Connie) is a doorman in the building where a former First Lady and her son (think JFK Jr.) live. Connie hangs out with the teenage boy, tries to keep him safe from the prying eyes of the paparazzi, and offers him companionship and solace. Otherwise, Connie’s life is a mess.
He has estranged himself from his wife and his two young sons by his alcoholism, and finally his wife changes the locks, and Connie is out on the mean streets of the city—a city that seems to be falling apart right before his eyes. While he prides himself on his job and the great job he does buffing the marble floors, for example, he is haunted by his own past. This may be why he attaches himself to the fatherless boy and ignores his own sons.
Cornelius Sky is a superb character study, with vivid observations of Connie’s tumultuous life and the tumultuous city where he lives. Frankly, I loved Connie, in all his bruised glory. While I didn’t love the way he treated his family, I loved the way others saw the good in Connie and offered him redemption.
Most importantly, the author Timothy Brandoff is an astute observer of the human condition, and I found myself underlining entire passages of brilliant writing that moved my heart. For example, here is a description of the people in the bar Connie frequents:
“Longshoremen, mailmen, factory workers, auto mechanics, truck drivers, the unemployable, a couple of wet-brains, a misanthropic PhD or two hiding behind what they hoped people would consider academic beards of distinction, flabbergasted occupants of Chelsea’s swankier brownstones because their lives still somehow sucked despite impressive curriculum vitae and substantial earning power—all stood and drank at the bar together."
224 pages is a fairly short book but is an absolutely perfect length for Connie’s story. The Kirkus review concludes that “its detailed portrait of a self-destructive character retains a haunting power.” The reviewer is absolutely right about the “haunting power.” I read Cornelius Sky several weeks ago, and it has remained with me.
Timothy Brandoff has an interesting personal history. He wove together details from his own life as he created the character of Cornelius Sky. He is a New York City bus driver and a former doorman, following the career path of his uncle and brother. He suggests, however, that while there are aspects of the book that follow his own life’s path, he hopes that the story is “true to itself.”
I hope that Brandoff will tell more stories of the characters he meets as he drives his bus through the city.