First-person novels often beg the question–did the writer actually live through what’s presented?
For Lara Reznik, author of the “The Girl from Long Guyland,” she’s the first to tell you no, though she considers it a compliment.
“It’s a fictive dream and the actual events are fictional,” said Reznik, a Pelham Parkway-born scribe talking from her Austin, Texas home about her first indie-published book. If you say the title out loud, the intonation will tell you where the protagonist is from.
The story focuses on Laila Levin, an I.T. manager who’s lived in Texas for the past forty years. Laila, a Bronx-born Long Islander, gets a call from an old friend revealing their mutual college buddy, Denise Manelo, has committed suicide.
The incident opens the doors to Laila’s past, namely her freshman year at The University of Bridgeport in 1969. It’s there a 17-year-old Laila is introduced to sex, drugs and rock & roll by members of The Family, a pack of twenty-something hippies comprised of Doc, Ivy, along with Ben and Chris, a duo who serve as Laila’s liberators and enslavers.
“Those Bridgeport townies had a power over me,” said Laila. “Especially Ben. I couldn’t explain it.”
The battle for Laila’s soul is soon tested as she’s eventually embroiled in a love triangle between Ben and Chris, who convince her to reluctantly join the marijuana drug trade. Much like Reznik, Laila soon rebels against middle-class Long Island, exchanging it for a psychedelic lifestyle. The exchange soon has ramifications after an incident on May 3, 1970 (the day before the infamous Kent State shootings) that forces Laila to make a secret pact with the devil, or devils in this case.
But the secret is soon out following Denise’s suicide, testing Laila’s present-day job and happy marriage.
The book, told in the first-person, alternates between time lines, jumping from 1969-70, including a tense scene at a drug-fueled Hollywood party, to present-day Texas where Laila juggles events at her job with her personal life.
Reznik structures her book to good effect, putting the reader in Laila’s shoes as she carefully peels layers off this psychologist thriller, leading to an unexpected finale.
“The Girl from Long Guyland” suggests a kind of condemnation to the hippie movement’s dark side, which prefers “anything goes” over integrity. Chris values the former, followed by Ben and Ivy.
“Those three characters are all about themselves,” said Reznik.
It’s also a coming-of-age story with themes of identity as newbie hipster Laila struggles to find a place she can call home despite reminders from the icy Ivy, aka Poison Ivy, that she’ll always be “The Long Guyland Girl”.
The theme’s also reinforced in the book’s title, suggesting one’s home can certainly shape values. For Laila, it could be Long Island, or maybe the Bronx. The last line of the 341-page book will tell you where she’s really from.
“The Girl from Long Guyland” is available on Amazon for $12.99 for the published book and $3.99 for the e-book.