Publishers Weekly Review: Unseen City by Amy Shearn

Shearn’s luminous latest (after The Mermaid from Brooklyn) follows a self-avowed librarian spinster; a man researching the history of his father’s Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home; and the ghost of an orphaned girl from Civil War–era Manhattan. Meg Rhys lives in the perfect apartment: it’s rent-controlled, close to her job at the Brooklyn Library, and also home to the ghost of her dead sister, Kate. When Meg’s landlord decides to sell the building, Meg must face the dizzying and depressing prospect of finding a new apartment, the “lingua franca of New York.” Meanwhile, widower Ellis Williams helps his father with his Crown Heights multifamily rental property, which has never been able to keep any tenants. The first floor rattles, there’s a draft coming from nowhere, and the doors keep slamming when no one is around. When Ellis seeks Meg’s help to research the building’s history, the two stumble upon more than they bargained for. Interwoven with the contemporary narrative is the story of a girl whose orphanage burned down during the Draft Riots of 1863 and who then moved in with a new family in Weeksville, a settlement of free Blacks that existed in what is present-day Crown Heights. The presence of ghosts is easily believable, helped along by the characters’ shared sense of grief. Shearn’s nimble storytelling unearths a fascinating and fraught history. (Oct.)

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