More Noodling, Please

Jessica Olin

  • The Bystander's Scrapbook by Joseph Torra
    Weidenfeld, 186 pp, £7.99, November 2001, ISBN 0 575 06767 5

Joseph Torra’s latest novel, The Bystander’s Scrapbook, opens in 1984, the year Ronald Reagan was re-elected President. In Somerville, Massachusetts, as in the rest of the country, corporate growth and gentrification are changing the face of neighbourhoods that once boasted a mix of ethnic traditions: a tenement that housed Hispanic families is overhauled and made into condos for white yuppies; colourful dives, the Italian cobbler’s shop and the Greek breakfast joint are torn down to make room for a new mall. Gregorio, a former PhD student, works double shifts as a dishwasher at weekends and spends his free time aimlessly reading, drinking and doing research in ‘no organised way’. Having dropped out of graduate school, he has abandoned his dissertation on the suppression of free speech in America during the second decade of the 20th century. His girlfriend, Carol, is a poet and X-ray technician; they hit the punk music scene together and argue about marriage and politics. Carol believes in social reform through democracy: Gregorio has lost faith in activism.

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