This National Indie Excellence Award Finalist is a story of love, loss, hope, and the haunting need to resolve the mysterious disappearance of a loved one…and of youth itself.
Born one minute apart in the same Brooklyn hospital, Mike Burns and Salvatore “Sally-Boy” Boccanera grow up thinking they will always have one another and the gritty fire escape where they play, fight, plot and try to make sense of life. But then, one cousin goes to college…and the other vanishes.
In the tumultuous year of 1968, the world falls apart around Mike, a college sophomore. Sally-Boy disappeared two years ago and Mike relentlessly thinks about him, sometimes even talking out loud to him. Mike tries hard to lead a “typical college life” filled with parties and an occasional class, but a radical professor stimulates Mike’s activism; he fights with his Secret Service agent father over politics and hair length; a friend’s draft dodge involves Mike in a crime; the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy drive Mike into action; and the girl Mike is falling in love with hides secrets of her own.
Questions of morality, conscience, obligation, and expectation tear at Mike and disrupt his life. But there is one thing he knows for sure: It may take years, but he will find Sally-Boy. After all, a fire escape is made to save lives, isn’t it?
“‘Fire Escape’ Is a Gripping Journey to the Home Front of the Vietnam War by Tom Grubisich”
Chuck Cascio’s “The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn” is a remarkable first novel. Written with a steady hand and observant eye, it tells the story of Mike Burns, a young man coming of age right in the middle of America’s tumultuous late 1960s, when the country was trapped in a corrosive war that was being waged in both Vietnam and on the home front.. “Fire Escape” keeps growing through its 52 chapters, which not many novels manage to do. Interwoven in every chapter are Mikey’s relationship of memories with his cousin Sally-Boy in the Brooklyn neighborhood in which they grew up and created a sanctuary on the rusty fire escape where they able to escape from the tenement apartments and act out their unbounded adolescent dreams. The mystery of what happened to Sally-Boy when he just disappeared from the neighborhood keeps the reader wondering, along with Mike. In its final chapters,the book breaks loose from its hero’s conflicted understanding of a world that keeps getting complicated and dangerous, unlike his experience with Sally-Boy from their “Fire Escape” days. Mike earns some very hard lesson of life beyond the Brooklyn fire escape, especially when he is walloped in the face by the police officer breaking up the campus rioting in which Mike, very typically, is somewhere between being a participant and bystander. This scene is part of the fast-paced later pages that take the reader right into the vortex of the movement against the Vietnam war that convulsed many college campuses, including Mike and his roommate Fish, their hall buddies and a very special girlfriend, Erica. The drama of Mike’s risky choice in how to engage with the home-front war captures the bravery of the immediate decision making that many young Americans showed during that time. Hope that Bobby Kennedy could win the presidency in 1968 abruptly ended when he was assassinated that spring. “Fire Escape” etches the despairing mood that enveloped Mike and Erica, who both were working on the Kennedy campaign in New Jersey. How Mike and Erica and their families and classmates and friends fought the home-front war is recreated in all its heartbreak in Chuck Casio’s distinguished “Fire Escape.”