Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Book Review: 'Neighborhood Lines' by Michael Patrick Murphy

Neighborhood Lines by Michael Patrick Murphy

‘Things are definitely changing’ – a Boston epic

Massachusetts author Michael Patrick Murphy is a Boston persona, having been born, educated, and still working there, as CEO of A. Murphy, Inc (a Union Electrical Contracting company) and, as a wellness and fitness enthusiast, CFO of Zen Den – a fully integrated wellness practice bringing holistic healthcare to the South Shore of Boston community. He knows his city well and has captured that in his debut novel NEIGHBORHOOD LINES – an enlightening novel he wrote in college about the milieu in Boston vis a vis the aftershocks of court-ordered busing to public schools as they lingered on, integration of the all-white housing projects had begun, and the murder rate had reached record-breaking figures between 1988 and 1995. 

Michael’s ability to relate mood and atmosphere of a city in struggle and that pivoting period in the last decades of the past century that drew attention to inequality is greatly enhanced by his sense of humanity, and in doing so he encourages us to reconsider how people from different ethnic backgrounds react. In his successful presentation of his novel he shares that, ultimately, true friendships are color blind. As he has stated, his hope in writing the novel is that it be ‘used as a tool to open up dialogues about race, class and the common ground that can be achieved by working together to solve conflicts.’

As Michael offers in his Preface, ‘As a child growing up I paid an extreme amount of attention to what was going on in the world. From the adults around me to society as a whole, the war between good an devil, politics, history, news, sports and the streets…Many incidents were fueled by racial feelings and fear during those years. The imbedded, pre-established brain viruses and behavioral norms of the youth were clearly passed down through the realities, experiences, and truths of the adults within Boston’s culture and society. The two main characters of the story, Nate and Patrick, meet on each side of the racial lines, drawn by a newly implemented integration program of a longtime historic Boston Irish Catholic high school…’ This degree of insight and sensitivity pervades every page of this excellent novel, and in addition to composing his story, Michael hopes to bring attention to our history and persistent challenge of racial tension, to ask important questions – and to feel and react and raise our consciousness. 

Distilling the plot, the provided synopsis works well: ‘In the heart of Boston in the 1980's—a city engulfed in turmoil and racial tensions, an unlikely friendship develops between two students at Cathedral High School. Patrick is an Irish-Catholic born leader. His friends follow him with blind allegiance. Nate is a young, disciplined, black athlete—focused on finding his way out of the neighborhood alive. The two young men find themselves on hectic school grounds, in a culture that shuns friendships like theirs. Through a tragic turn of events, we see stereotypical statuses turned upside down. The contrasting characters display the power of individual choice and response to life's circumstances. Though the corruption and racism of Patrick and Nate's Boston culture posed an equal threat to both, their respective choices to pick themselves up, find their resolve, and get past their environment, caused them to rise above it all.'

Writing of this quality is usually found only with experienced authors, but Michael Patrick Murphy’s fluid prose captures not only a fine story, but also a philosophical guide for all of us to embrace. Very highly recommended

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.