Emerald City By Brian Birnbaum

Set in Seattle, Emerald City follows Benison Behrenreich, the hearing son of Deaf royalty. His father, CEO of a multimillion-dollar Deaf access agency, has bribed Myriadal College officials for Benison’s spot on their powerhouse basketball team, where he struggles to prove himself and compensate for his father’s sins.

Julia Paolantonio has recently lost her father to a drug relapse. Her mother ships her off to live with her estranged granddad, Johnny Raciti, during the summer before her freshman year at Myriadal. Johnny offers her a deal: bring him Peter Fosch – tormented college dropout and the best drug runner west of the Cascades – and he’ll give Julia’s freshly widowed mother a board seat on his mobbed-up securities firm.

When Benison’s father is arrested for defrauding government subsidies for the Deaf, the Behrenreichs are left vulnerable to his company’s ruthless backers – namely Johnny Raciti – forcing Julia and Peter to navigate the minefield left in the aftermath. 

Praise for Emerald City


“In Emerald City, Brian Birnbaum expertly creates a kinetic but pained world. The result is an addictive blend of compelling discovery and desultory recognition. Above all, it’s the authenticity of the work that most controls. Birnbaum has a true gift for creating individuated characters and people like Julia jump off the page as not just magnetic emblems but as perfect repositories for the empathic magic of fiction. Then there’s the prose. It’s subtly sly and inventive throughout but also perfectly pitched to particular story and structural demands — expansive enough to encompass the universal but also honed enough to beautify the granular. This is preternatural assurance. A moving and intelligent work that resonates beyond the final page.” - Sergio De La Pava, Author of A Naked Singularity (University of Chicago Press) and Lost Empress (Pantheon)

"Though this nimble and virtuosic novel tracks everything from the long shadow of addiction to the unique pressures of college athletics, Emerald City is, at its heart, an intensely moving story about family. Birnbaum's electric, acutely funny storytelling pulls the wool over your eyes and allows the novel's poignance to sneak up on you, and I finished it beguiled by his trick and thrilled at its execution." - Gabe Habash, Author of Stephen Florida (Coffee House Press)

"A fiercely smart, intricately structured, riveting debut novel. It’s a little unfair that Brian Birnbaum should possess so many gifts. Fortunately, Emerald City is our prize, not his." - David Hollander, Author of L.I.E. (Ballantine Books) and Anthropica (Forthcoming from Dead Rabbits Books)

“I want to live in Brian Birnbaum’s head for a day to access the dark, loamy place he stores his word magic dust. But only a day. Any longer and I’d be big-pupiled and catatonic, out-cerebrumed and anti-cerebellumed. This novel is a wild ride, and will make you laugh even while you’re cold-sweating through his character’s choices. You might need a helmet. Or a flask of something. Followed by a shower. Birnbaum is as inventive with language as he is smart with story. He will put you into a world that kind of scares you, a world you don’t fully trust not to hurt you, and you’ll kind of like it.” - David Olimpio, Author of This Is Not a Confession (Awst Press) and Editor-in-Chief of Atticus Review

"Let me say first: I don't like basketball. Or baseball card collections. Maybe you don't either. Do not let this deter you. A sign of a good book is its ability to make us think deeply about the things we would otherwise not care about. Call it empathy, call it precision; either way, I'm thankful. Newly minting the mundane into something thrilling is one rare gift a book can offer us. It's not easy, but Emerald City accomplishes this feat thrice over, and more. Not only do I dislike basketball, I'm also bored by securities firms and their boards. Nor am I interested in the ins and outs of government subsidies. Yet, in Emerald City, these unlikely elements serve as conduits through which to examine power and access and the systems (and people, families, bodies, feeelings) that inevitably braid and fray them. Perhaps every prism is boring on its face (a hunk of featureless glass on a desk), but — like this book ⁠— the array of color that emerges through its core captures, enraptures, and transfixes us. Let the light that passes through these pages course into you." - Dolan Morgan, author of That's When the Knives Come Down (Aforementioned Productions) and INSIGNIFICANA (Civil Coping Mechanisms)

"Birnbaum’s Emerald City is fast-paced and raucous. A contemporary Odysseus-esque journey, where each moment, each conversation, is a fight for one’s life. Time feels like a needless and foreign construction because everything that matters is happening in the now. We like to think of people, place and narrative existing within boxes and boundaries, but this is work that is unafraid to veer. One is left feeling like they’ve been eavesdropping on a conversation they’re not supposed to be listening to. The palpable discomfort from this knowing turns physical, quick. Sometimes the passages themselves feel like a low hanging fog. Tangles of sublime language that work to snare and entrap that are as lush as the Emerald City herself. Moreover, when the fog dissipates, what one is left with is a landscape fraught with conflict and diversion, and choices that aren’t choices at all, a new take on thou mayest, where we keep coming back to the same question: What would you do to survive?" - Keegan Lester, Author of this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it's all i had so i drew it (Slope Editions)

“Melding basketball, trust funds, drug mules, and good ol’ noirish intrigue, Brian Birnbaum’s Dickensian portrayal of a hypercapitalistic Seattle’s underbelly (and overbelly) must be read and savored to be believed.” - Leland Cheuk, Author of The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong (Chicago Center for Literature and Photography) and No Good Very Bad Asian (C&R Press)

"Brian Birnbaum's ambitious novel Emerald City is about a lot of things: parents and children, moral compromise, and college basketball among them. It's also thoroughly haunting in the ways that it demonstrates the connections among its characters, from organized crime figures to frustrated academics to literary satirists. This is a big, risk-taking novel in its temporal structure and its use of language, and it's a work in which those risks resonate with the story being told here. Throw in a detailed portrait of a changing Seattle and you have a thoroughly immersive read." - Tobias Carroll, author of Transitory (Civil Coping Mechanisms) and Reel (Rare Bird Books)

“Birnbaum’s gritty, rich prose takes readers on a maverick cyclonic adventure, with wry humor and unflinching peeling back of layers that bind us to each other from birth as much as those we choose for ourselves.” - Jimin Han, author of A Small Revolution (Little A)


Press for Emerald City