In the Weeds

Daniel Browne

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Gar­rett County Press (DE­CEM­BER) Soft­cover $15.95 (265pp), 978-1-939430-20-5

Daniel Browne’s In the Weeds is set in Brook­lyn, New York’s fa­mously di­verse bor­ough of neigh­bor­hoods. In re­cent decades, Brook­lyn’s sta­tus has changed; it is no longer shad­owed by mighty Man­hat­tan. Brook­lyn is a des­ti­na­tion of its own, with an ever-grow­ing hip­ster, ar­ti­san, and cre­atively en­tre­pre­neur­ial com­mu­nity.

Will nar­rates. He is the youngish as­sis­tant to a New York City coun­cil­woman, and a col­lege grad­u­ate with an “inessen­tial” de­gree and a dwin­dling sense of life’s pur­pose. Se­duced by a mag­a­zine called Sa­vory Brook­lyn, which fea­tures ar­ti­cles about gen­er­ally tat­tooed bak­ers, bee­keep­ers, and botan­i­cal gin mak­ers, Will dreams of find­ing his own utopian Brook­lyn, a land seem­ingly kindred to the free-spir­ited mec­cas of Port­land and Seattle.

Sa­vory Brook­lyn in mind, Will and his cyn­i­cal yet sage friend El­liot pur­sue the idea of start­ing an ur­ban farm. Or­ganic pro­duce can be grown, school chil­dren can be healthily en­gaged, and the har­vest can be used by lo­cal up­scale restau­ra­teurs to en­hance such cre­ations as Zooey Bechamel pizza and chick­weed salad with “lemon zest, gouda, and blue­ber­ries.”

In the Weeds skill­fully par­ries Will’s op­ti­mism with the re­al­i­ties of cash flow, pub­lic re­la­tions, per­mits, and com­pe­ti­tion. Mis­trust to­wards gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and racial ten­sions are also key is­sues, as is New York’s long­stand­ing ten­dency to re­gard even a blighted patch of land as ei­ther gang turf or real es­tate. Fi­nan­cial anx­i­eties ex­ist as well, par­tic­u­larly when Will’s wife finds her­self un­ex­pect­edly preg­nant. And with the novel’s time frame fol­low­ing the 2008 eco­nomic cri­sis, prospects be­come lim­ited. Pres­i­dent Obama’s buoy­ant “Yes, We Can!” cam­paign slo­gan seems re­duced to “No, We Prob­a­bly Shouldn’t.”

Witty, wry, and en­gag­ing, In the Weeds takes an en­joy­ably satir­i­cal view of New Brook­lyn while still main­tain­ing a sense of pos­si­bil­ity about how, with both ini­tia­tive and bal­ance, ur­ban land­scapes can change for the bet­ter.

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