I’d like to be a locavore. Seriously, I would. But I’d have to find a Taco Bell that gets all its ingredients from farms in New York City.
Till then, I can be a literary locavore. Here are four recently published books with lots of New York City flavor.
The Kept Man by Jami Attenberg
“A meditation on family, a window into glittering Williamsburg, and an unforgettable story” says Amanda Eyre Ward on the back cover of this fable about a neglected young wife (of a comatose famous artist) who breaks out of her shell. Williamsburg glitters? I don’t know about that. But Jami Attenberg wrings a lot of charm out of the laundromats and stoops of northern Brooklyn in this leisurely-paced novel about trust, love and friendship in our jaded modern age. Attenberg’s dishy voice reminds me of Fran Lebowitz at times (on an art dealer: “I guess she’s entitled to her bat phone”) and the cheerful tone keeps the book moving breezily along. But The Kept Man carries an undertone of ethical controversy — especially when the narrator decides to end her comatose husband’s life, against the will of his parents — and it all eventually adds up to a message of self-affirmation that will please many readers.
New York Echoes by Warren Adler
What is a “New York” character? What do we do, how do we look, what do we sound like? (Okay, you know what? Don’t answer. I’m not sure I want to know).
Warren Adler wrote the bitter novel that became the bitter movie The War of the Roses, writes. He writes about “New York characters”, whatever exactly that means, in New York Echoes. These short stories are finely crafted miniatures, but I found an underlying nastiness in the two stories I read that didn’t work for me (though I think many readers may find this tone appealing). One story was about a woman who tried to be helpful to everybody in her apartment building until she finally realized it was getting her nowhere, and so she stopped. I wished the story had a happy ending. The other story I read was about the horrible ending of an apparently horrible marriage. I wished this story had a happy ending too. Not my kind of sour pickle, but you might like it.
Gentleman Jigger by Richard Bruce Nugent
“Jigga … (What’s my mutha$&*%#! name) …”
I didn’t know that “Jigga” originated with a old racial rhyme: “Looky, looky, Gentleman Jigger — half white and half nigger”. Harlem Renaissance author Richard Bruce Nugent grabbed this phrase in 1928 and spun it into a novel about a gay, artistic upper-class African-American caught up in a Bohemian crime scene in Jazz Age Greenwich Village and Harlem. This novel, newly published in an attractive paperback original edition by Da Capo Press, offers a fascinating glimpse at a past literary age.
Queens Noir edited by Robert Knightly
Now this is close to home. Finally, Akashic‘s localized crime-fiction series has come to my beloved borough. This book could use a little more southside flavor, but my own central Queens (Rego Park, Forest Hills, Corona, Richmond Hill) is well represented, and so are the New York Mets. I read three stories that take place in spots very familiar to me, and here’s what I thought of each:
• Buckner’s Error by Joseph Guglielmelli posits a creepy scenario involving an unlucky Red Sox fan on the 7 train to Shea Stadium. Guglielmelli tells a tight tale, and he gets extra points for knowing his 1986 trivia.
• Bottom of the Sixth by Alan Gordon takes place at the Little League baseball fields a couple of blocks from where I live. I love seeing my neighborhood immortalized in “noir”, and I like Gordon’s Sopranos-esque dialogue and quirky portraits of Hasidic Jews, cops and local lowlife. Gordon also knows his Queens, as is evident in a chase scene through the little-known Whitepot Junction abandoned train interchange.
• Hollywood Lanes by Megan Abbott takes place in the bowling alley up the street in Forest Hills, across from the new Dunkin’ Donuts. But guess what? Hollywood Lanes closed a year ago. And it’s just as well, because I don’t fully get this story. There are a few semi-married people flirting with each other in a bowling alley, and somebody gets hit by a car, and I’m sorry but I read it twice and I can’t figure out what exactly is going on. It’s probably my fault (I’ve always been a dense mystery-reader). I never bowled more than 120 in Hollywood Lanes, either.
That’s it for this time around — the Literary Locavore will be back again soon!