Jay Baron Nicorvo isn’t interested in — maybe doesn’t believe in — happy ever after. His debut novel, “The Standard Grand,” is centered on veterans struggling to reintegrate into American society, men and women seeking a less awful ever after.
Nicorvo images a makeshift unit of vets in the Catskills of New York state trying to make a go of it while fending off the machinations of an international company that wants the land they occupy.
Each character, battling demons of his or her own, finds it difficult to connect with others as distrust, illness, overwhelming panic, and more separate them one from another.
This is a novel without missteps. Nicorvo subtly signals the ways in which the past and the present merge for soldiers haunted by horrible memories. He underscores the ways in which violence begets violence, which is almost seductive in its allure. He dangles a variety of potential happy endings, which both he and his characters firmly reject. He then offers a happier-than-they-were ending that is note perfect.
Also of note is a bravura passage featuring Sammy Davis Jr., a flashback scene central to the story that is dazzling in its execution. It could stand on its own as a short story. As part of the larger narrative, it serves as the hub of Nicorvo’s investigation into how the past can define our present for good or ill.
“The Standard Grand” is an outstanding novel — funny, heartbreaking and important. Assigning importance to a novel is tricky business, but this story asks us to imagine the lives of some of the most vulnerable among us, the women and men who fight for us and then return home where it often seems no one will fight for them.
I cannot recommend “The Standard Grand” strongly enough.