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Safelight: A Novel Paperback – September 13, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (September 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812971744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812971743
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,941,202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this dark, tender debut, Frank Verbeckas is a young paramedic patrolling the mean streets of Manhattan. Frank's real passion, however, is photography; he's constantly snapping pictures of injured and dead bodies while on his rounds. "I don't like healthy people," he tells his brutish partner, Burnett. Though Frank treats his photographs as just a harmless hobby, the obsession runs much deeper. What he's really after is photography's ability to give him "a clarity and precision" that he lacks in real life, where the violence of his job punctuates an ever-present loneliness. His father is dead; his mother's in another state; his surgeon brother treats him with contempt. Frank's only refuge is the homemade darkroom in his apartment, where he spends hours under the "weightless, red glow" of a safelight. His emotional numbness gets him into trouble when he joins up with Burnett and another medic to sell stolen drugs from the hospital. But his relationship with 21-year-old Emily Pascal, a fencer infected with HIV, finally shakes him out of his detachment. The doomed romance is rather sentimental (like a minimalist, edgy Love Story), but Burke's spare prose and sharp eye for the beauty in urban misery makes this a moving tale of lost souls searching for permanence in a chaotic world.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In the free-fire zone of early-1990s Harlem, emergency medical technician Frank Verbeckas drifts from one fresh horror to the next. Numbed by his father's suicide, Frank falls in with a rough-and-tumble ambulance crew that is as willing to deliver bruising blows to a rummy frequent flier as it is to provide top-flight care to hopeless trauma cases. When he isn't boosting narcotics or encouraging insurance scams against the city, Frank snaps photos of the dead, the dying, and the down-and-out. His cowboy-surgeon brother, Norman, berates Frank for wasting his life. And he does seem headed for disaster--until he meets Emily Pascal, an HIV-positive competitive fencer. Against his better judgment, Frank eases into a romance. In punchy, cinematic chapters, Burke tenderly illustrates the transformative powers of love between people riding out tough emotional times even as he keeps the medical lowlight reel rolling. As Frank opens up, he imagines how the photos might improve his life instead of just allowing him to morbidly relive the past. Sometimes, redemption can be claimed in the heartbeat of a tripping shutter. Frank Sennett
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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It's a great book, I stayed on the edge of my seat the whole way through.
Lazy Lucas
Often, it is the ones we love who keep us tethered to our humanity and reveal the meaning of life.
Gea
Burke has an uncanny ability to pull you in and empathize with his characters.
Jonathan D. Epstein

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Book 'Em Danno on January 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Safelight" is a novel that pulls you in at the start. There is no building of characters, no climax. You either step right in and enjoy the ride or get off.

The main character is such a hard nut to crack. There are some authors who want you to empathize wth the characters and you are drawn into the story. Mr. Burke does the opposite, he intentionally keeps the main character distant. You never really get inside of what he's like, only a glimpse that he does have feelings when he carries on a relationship with an HIV positive female.

The book wasn't very long and reads like snapshots. You'll get your focus but then it's gone. You'll either finish this book and stick with it because reading this chaos is manageable or you'll put it down out of frustration that it's all over the place. There's no middle ground with it. I invite you to give it a try and if you finish it I can guarantee you won't forget it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lee Irby on January 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There is no doubt that Shannon Burke has emerged as an important writer. This work is very hard to forget. You'd like to tell yourself that since it's a novel, he's just making up stuff--but as the New York Times pointed out, Burke spent about five years in Harlem as an EMT. In a way, this is a war novel, akin to early Hemingway. Burke is trying to make sense of what he saw and experienced, a lot of it gut-wrenching.

If you like spiffy, bleach-cleaned, MFA-program novels, this ain't for you. Burke's work harkens back to an earlier time in American literature, when books were earned and not gift-wrapped by faculty advisers. The writing here is spare, poetic, and perfectly pitched. The characters leap off the page. Money well spent in my opinion.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Monica J. Kern VINE VOICE on December 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book that grows on you. The prose is sparse, and the book essentially consists of short vignettes that initially have no apparent meaning or relation to the other scenes. I was at first somewhat frustrated with the novel because I could not immediately figure out where the plot was leading to, or even what the plot was. However, the scenes gradually build to a crescendo, and the result is a book that is simultaneously sad and inspirational, one that creates a mood that lingers long after you have finished it.

Burke's writing style is distinctive and highly impressive for a first novel. It probably didn't help that I read this book shortly after finishing Tom Wolfe's latest novel, as the two styles could not be more different. Wolfe can devote paragraphs to describing the clothing of a minor character, and it takes at least days of devoted reading to get through his tomes. I zipped through Safelight, however, in just a couple of hours. But I do not mean to imply that book is lightweight; its message of regret, grief, and daring to love despite inevitable heartbreak makes this a disturbing yet highly moving novel. I look forward to reading more of Burke's work in the future.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By P. Kepler on September 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A wonderful work of literature. The imagery Mr. Burke evokes is very graphic and intense, but he makes sure he doesn't fall into the "reading audience is dumb" trap by telling you too much. Burke's characters develop quickly, as does the story line. No Tolstoy, Burke has preferred to keep things short and sweet. Now I'll do the same with this review. A must read for true literature fans.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Smallridge on July 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is awesome in its power to both haunt a reader and make one think. Burke places a somewhat unsympathetic character into a tough world. He then slowly offers ways of understanding how the evolution of both personality and experience brings about scars and growth. His work is not to be missed by those serious about American letters.
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By Knerrd on May 15, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I was not expecting that. Did the person who gave it one star read the same book as the rest of us? Since when does a story have to be a certain amount of pages to be good? I picked up a copy of this book up at a book fair, not anticipating anything too significant. I was wrong - this is a powerful book. Beautifully, if sparsely, written. Burke doesn't get into full character development like you would want in some novels, but I think that is fully intentional and part of the point of the book. Funny, tough, gritty, raw, tender, loving, sad - this book covers all the emotions.
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By Lazy Lucas on January 16, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's a great book, I stayed on the edge of my seat the whole way through. I highly recommend it! My only complaint is that it wasn't longer!
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