In recent years, headless animals have turned up with disconcerting frequency in New York City parks — goats mainly, but also chickens, and on occasion, a pig or calf. Religious sacrifices, speculate the optimistic. Psychopaths, mutters everyone else.
It’s proof that we’re catching the characters in “Neon in Daylight,” a radiant first novel by Hermione Hoby, at an odd moment that they’re not more puzzled by this development — even when they find themselves tripping over the carcasses.
After all, there’s an eerie electricity in the air. The novel is set in New York in 2012, in the waning days of summer. Hurricane Sandy is about to unleash itself on the city. Everyone seems to be losing his or her head.
Kate, a British Ph.D. student, has washed up in New York to get away from her boyfriend, the dismal, thinly drawn George, and allows herself to be steered into all kinds of interesting trouble. Inez, a mouthy, beautiful teenager, has grown bored of selling Adderall to N.Y.U. students and is meeting men online and catering to their extremely specific sexual fantasies. We meet her father, Bill, a once lauded and now sodden novelist, passed out in a public park.
The three form a torpid triangle for a time (Kate befriends Inez and has an affair with Bill, without knowing Inez is his daughter), propelled less by desire than by a desire for desire; for any kind of strong feeling, really.