Thursday, October 22, 2015

Tales of Two Cities: The Best & Worst of Times in Today's New York - Ed. John Freeman (2015)

It's not every day a publisher or publicist reaches out to me and asks if I want to review their book.  In the past, I asked Tao Lin myself if I could get free copies of his first novel, novella, and second novel.  Once, someone from a bigger publishing house sent me a random book and I reviewed it.   A couple times, publicists sent me e-mails teasing a new book, asking if I wanted a review copy.  This is the first one where I expressed interest, and they actually followed through.  So, I'd like to say, thank you, Shannon Twomey, for reminding me that I am not yet totally irrelevant.

Tales of Two Cities is an anthology, and these pose particular challenges for the critic.  Of course, Userlands is partly responsible for the existence of Flying Houses in the first place, and no other reviews of anthologies have appeared since then.  Certain books of short stories, or essays, by Thomas Mann, James Franco, Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, Chuck KlostermanWells Tower, Jonathan Franzen, and others have spurred lengthy reviews that potentially lacked focus.  Like Userlands, there are many writers in Tales of Two Cities, and most of them will not be familiar to the casual reader.

Certainly, Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers and David Byrne are pretty famous, but their work is probably not the strongest in this volume.  I suppose we can start there, keeping in mind that people's attention spans on the internet are less than ideal.

We'll start with Smith because her story appears closest to the beginning.  I've never read White Teeth or On Beauty or NW but she's certainly one of the literary stars of our time.  For better or worse, "Miss Adele Amongst the Corsets," will forever remain my introduction to her.  It definitely took me  a minute to figure out what was happening in this story.  I feel weird not wanting to give away spoilers for short stories, but it feels necessary here.  Basically, this is the story of a drag queen going to buy a corset from a store run by Eastern European immigrants that may or may not be fundamental Christians.  It is about Miss Adele's mentality as she veers toward her late forties and reflects upon her situation.  It is about paranoia, insecurity, and the expectations we all have of common decency.

Parts of this story are engaging, and other parts drag a bit.  It's only 17 pages long, but it's one of the more memorable moments in the anthology.  I like in particular how Smith weaves in memories from Miss Adele's childhood, when her name was Darren and he was the twin of Devin (who is now successful/married) and their parents fought, all while she changes in a dressing room.  It also reminded me of my own work from 2003, "Autointoxication," with the insecurity, paranoia and egotistical impression that everyone is really talking about you.  While this is far from a great short story, it should serve Smith well.  It makes me want to check out White Teeth.


Before we move on, the theme of this anthology merits attention.  Of course, this book harps on the same themes over and over again!  Bill de Blasio and his infamous description of New York as two cities, for the haves and have-nots.  The rent is too damn high!  Those darn 1%-ers!

Income inequality is a hot topic (see the Democratic Debate on 10/13/15, see also the rapid rise of the minimum wage) and as a person that enjoys reviewing books by modern day heroes and doctoral journalists that attack the issue head on, as well as spearheading one's own faulty program to assess how much "fun" poor people are allowed to have, to say nothing of the 6+ years I lived in New York on my parent's/the government's dime, reviewing this book is a no-brainer.

Why the fuck do you need to live in New York?  Is it really that nice?  Oh, you've got Central Park---great!  An urban oasis.  You feel like you're not really in the city!  Oh, and the pizza--the pizza is just the best.  The museums, the culture!  Greenwich Village!  Brooklyn!  All the greatest artists come out of the village scene, don't you know?  The best public transportation system in the country, hands down.  Those wonderful 24 hour delis on every corner, or at least many corners.  The people, who are all in this struggle with you!  The energy--the city never sleeps!  It is the #1 biggest city in the country, and so much better than L.A.  God, who can stand to sit in all that traffic!  Oh, the food, such wonderful restaurants.  It is the epicenter of the legal industry!  All your friends live there, too.

Perhaps you can tell that I have conflicted feelings about New York.  Certainly, the years I spent there from 2001 through 2004 were some of the very best of my life and I will forever cherish such memories.  But, the years I spent there from 2010 through 2013 were different.  I was older.  I wasn't in college.  The Great Depression Part 2 happened in between.  I had to take out student loans this time.  I was in Brooklyn Heights rather than Greenwich Village.

When I was 22, I moved back to Chicago because my dad offered me a job there, and I had no job offers in New York (I hadn't really started looking for one, and had always lived in the NYU dorms, never my own apartment).  When I was 30, I moved back to Chicago because I had no legal job offers in New York, and again, lived in the same "apartment-style" dorm at Brooklyn Law School for 3 years, the rent approximately $1,000 per month for a 2 bedroom.  My room was small, but my roommate's (there were 3 different ones of varying quality, one of whom was the best roommate I have ever had, and there have been many) was only about $60 per month more than mine, and I think this place was a steal for the neighborhood.  Sometimes I see friends on Facebook moving out and posting their craigslist ad when they want someone to take over their lease, and it's usually almost $1000 per month to live in one room in a 3BR in a vaguely desirable neighborhood in a wave of gentrification.

Compare that to the $580 (up from $540 as of 9/1/15) for my room in Logan Square (say nothing of sharing that room and cutting the cost to $290), a neighborhood in Chicago that has been in a steady state of gentrification over the past 10 years.

Now granted if I could have lived in New York with a rental at $500 or $600 per month, I would have stayed.  But I would have probably needed to split a room to get that.  And it would most likely be in Crown Heights.


There are two stories in this collection that are focused laser-like on housing: "Partially Vacated" by D.W. Gibson, and "A Block Divided Against Itself" by Sarah Jaffe.  The latter features Crown Heights as the epicenter of the current gentrification fight in NYC and the former features South Brooklyn Legal Services and Housing Court on Livingston St.  Guess which one I liked better.

It's not that Jaffe's story is more boring.  Actually, I kept flashing back to Show Me a Hero while reading it.  It's quite compelling, but also one-sided, like many accounts of housing issues.  I am not a Pollyanna for landlords.  I used to prosecute them for bad behavior, and I currently live under one that I'd like to report.  The Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance in Chicago is quite tenant-friendly, and I'd presume a similar situation exists in New York.  Yet all we hear are stories about the bad landlords.  What about the bad tenants?  One day I will write a story about bad tenants.

Apart from the Show Me a Hero comparison, I don't really know what to say about the Crown Heights story.  It was basically average for the collection, and maybe it gets a bonus point for being so perfectly on topic.

However, "Partially Vacated" is one of the finest moments in the anthology.  Of course, I may be biased, because one does not often get to read books about things one knows semi-intimately:

"The civil courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn sits amid a cluster of bureaucratic towers, adjacent to a mix of 99-cent stores and restaurants where bartenders prefer to be called mixologists.  The Quaker-affiliated Brooklyn Friends School, $28,000 a year for pre-school, is just up the block.
Inside the rectangular building of steel and glass leased by the civil courthouse, the elevators break down year-round, the air-conditioner only in summer.  Before he was mayor, Bill de Blasio, acting as Public Advocate, put the building's landlord on his 'Worst Landlord' watch list.  The city's lease for the property expired last week, but, unable to find new housing, housing court--ironically, or perhaps not--will stay in the ailing building.
The line to get in the door--to shuffle through security and wait in a second line for the persnickety elevators--usually runs out the door and all the way down the block well before eight in the morning.
On the tenth floor, the elevator doors open onto a crowded hall, filled with the strident din of heated conversations in every direction.  Clumps of three or four people stand together: always a landlord, always a tenant, usually a landlord's lawyer, occasionally a tenant's lawyer, too.  They're all haggling, trying to reach a settlement; when and if they do, the details are immediately written on a piece of paper and taken into one of the court rooms to receive a judge's approval.  There are dozens of courtrooms--some for hearings, some for trial--and all guarantee long waits."  (63-64)

I didn't do housing in Brooklyn, but I did have a few friends work for South Brooklyn Legal Services, and I'm sure this story would be quite interesting for them.  I did work at that civil courthouse, and I had forgotten about those ridiculous lines!  In short, this story is great because it is true.  And for what it's worth, the landlord in this story has to be one of the all-time worst.


More generally, these stories are just about people living in poverty in New York.  The introduction by John Freeman is wonderfully written.  It teases the entry by his brother, Tim Freeman, and provides a little snippet of each story to come in the collection.  I have to say that while reading John's intro, I thought he came off as a total douchebag; after reading Tim's story "Home," much less so:

"I tell this story now because we need to change the way we talk about inequality.  The reasons it exists are as complex as the reasons why my brother wound up in a shelter.  Inequality is not an issue of us and them, the rich and the poor.  You often see these same so-called divisions within one family, like mine.  I have an instinct here to apologize for making this point, to add a caveat that my experience of witnessing my brother's homelessness was not nearly as hard as it was for him to live it, while I'm sure there are people who have suffered far more than both of us.  All this is true, I suppose, but it leads us into a cul-de-sac.  To rank suffering creates a false hierarchy of pain, as if there were a way to compare and weight grief with, say, physical discomfort, or career frustrations, or hopelessness.  It allows us, to some degree, to say that some forms of suffering are OK while others are not." (x)

"I did not want anybody's help when I was homeless.  If a family member had offered to take me in, I most likely would have declined the offer.  When I was trying to stay at Bellevue, my brother John lived less than a mile away on the other side of town.  I only saw him twice during the whole time that I was homeless.  Again, I think this is because of the awkwardness.  I also didn't want to be a burden on anybody.  I know this probably sounds like an old homeless cliche, but it is how I felt." (213)


As for the other "famous" writers in the anthology, Junot Diaz has one of the better entries.  It's a very short and sweet essay about an act of larceny.  However, I found it was published in 2001 in The New Yorker, so even though this had to be one of Diaz's breakout pieces, it has little to do with "today's New York."  It's a remembrance from his childhood.  It's only a few pages long, but it's as good as any single part of Oscar Wao.

Jonathan Safran Foer's is also an older piece--from 2004, I believe--and let's just get this out of the way: I don't like him.  People may think it's cruel for me to say that when I've never read him, but I just don't like him.  Once I got my mom Eating Animals from the library, and she seemed to think it was pretty good.  But I have never read anything by him before and I never wanted to, but it would have been irresponsible to skip "The Sixth Borough," which details the secret history of another borough that was once part of New York City.  It is probably the silliest piece in this book and has almost nothing to do with its theme.  I think it was included for "star power."  In any case, this was the one chance for JSF to prove to me that I should give him a chance.  I think putting in previously published work is a bit of a cop-out, but whatever.  I still liked Diaz's piece.  This one, not as much.  Sorry, I guess I am just jealous.

Dave Eggers is his typically good-natured self, and introduces an essay by a fifteen-year-old girl whose family moved into Park Slope.  She wrote the story as part of his 826 program.  While her story is certainly impressive for a 15-year-old and sits comfortably alongside all of these other writers, I still thought Eggers little anecdote about living around a certain area in Brooklyn in the late 90's was more interesting.  Both of these submissions add up to about 7 pages total, so it's not a huge part of the book.

I should briefly mention Colum McCann here, because he's "semi-famous."  At a wedding over three years ago, a younger guest who was just starting college and wanted to be a writer, asked if I had read him, I said no, and he suggested Let the Great World Spin.  Maybe one day I'll read that.  In any case, McCann writes an essay that could be a viewed as a companion piece to the film Dark Days, which is a documentary that came out around 2000 and was about the "mole people" living in tunnels beneath the city.  This is also really short--only about 4 pages--but it's another highlight from the book.

Last but not least, David Byrne's essay is wonderful.  It's quite in your face and filled with quotable moments.  Byrne does not try to pretend that the Talking Heads haven't made him rich, and openly admits that his relationship with New York may be souring:

"Many of the wealthy don't even live here.  In the neighborhood where I live (near the art galleries in Chelsea), I can see three large condos from my window that are pretty much empty all the time.  What the fuck!?  Apparently, rich folks buy the apartments, but might only stay in them a few weeks out of the year.  So why should they have an incentive to maintain or improve the general health of the city?  They're never here.
This real estate situation--a topic New Yorkers love to complain about over dinner--doesn't help the future health of the city.  If young, emerging talent of all types can't find a foothold in this city, then it will be a city closer to Hong Kong or Abu Dhabi than to the rich fertile place it has historically been.  Those places might have museums, but they don't have culture.  Ugh.  If New York goes there--more than it already has--I'm leaving.
But where will I go?  Join the expat hipsters upstate in Hudson?
Can New York change its trajectory a little bit, become more inclusive and financially egalitarian?  Is that possible?  I think it is.  It's still the most stimulating and exciting place in the world to live and work, but it's in danger of walking away from its greatest strengths.  The physical improvements are happening--though much of the crumbing infrastructure still needs fixing.  If the social and economic situation can be addressed, we're halfway there.  It really could be a model of how to make a large, economically sustainable, and creatively energetic city.  I want to live in that city."  (246)


Like any anthology, there are bound to be a few disappointments.  Edmund White (whom I would designate as "quasi-famous") submits a very nicely written biographical essay that seems to have almost nothing to do with the "theme" except for the fact that his subject (Lorenzo Da Ponte--a.k.a. the writer of Mozart's librettos) eventually settled in 18th century NYC.  I found it occasionally entertaining and out of place.

"Small Fates 1912" by Teju Cole (the only other writer listed by name on the cover besides Smith and Diaz, though one I would not designate as any kind of famous) starts off great, and quickly grows tiresome.  Some of these "fates" are uproariously funny, but after about two pages of them, I realized they were really all just "tweets" and I fucking hate twitterature.  I know it can be experimental in the same vein as an Oulippo-stunt, but I don't think it can be revelatory when it's trademarked by a publicly-traded company.

"Due North" by Garnette Cadogan is about walking around Manhattan, and it's pretty good.  I like walking around, too.  But it's also about feeling that people are friendlier in certain areas like the South Bronx, and more standoffish or invisible in areas like the Upper East Side.  Unfortunately it made me wonder what Cadogan did in order to have all this leisure time to loaf.

"Options" is probably one of the stronger stories in this book, and perhaps deserves to be placed in the next section (I am saving the best for the last here).  It's about moving to New York to try to get the best possible care for one's autistic child.  It's about seeing a sign for a lost child that is autistic, and reflecting on your own.  It's pretty powerful stuff, but it seems a little over the top, too.  It strikes me as being 100% factual, but ultimately foolhardy.

"The Children Suicides" by Maria Venegas is interesting, but it's not about the NYU suicides in 2003-2004, so I have trouble relating.  Then again as a former 10-year-old that confided suicidal thoughts to a teacher, it's affecting to see it from the other perspective.  Not that they didn't take it way more seriously than they needed to or anything.

I almost want to put "Four More Years" by Jonathan Dee in the next section, too, because it seems like it's the only story that's really about "the 1%" and it's about driving around the neighborhood during a horrible snowfall and navigating the horrible conditions.  This is actually a really memorable story and I don't know, I guess the characters came off as being sort of one-dimensional, and that's why it doesn't go in the next section.

"So Where Are We?" is a poem by Lawrence Joseph.  I rarely review poetry on Flying Houses.  I think I did once before.  Is it a good poem?  I don't know.  Is it a bad poem?  I don't know.  It seems like it's about 9/11.  9/11 is obviously a big topic for New Yorkers but it almost never gets mentioned in this book.  I skimmed this poem and moved on.

"Round Trip" by Akhil Sharma is certainly no failure at all, but it is slight at four pages and feels almost like Diaz's story.  It's about a guy who has money, but is super frugal anyways because he hates spending.  I can relate.  However, he quits his job that pays pretty well to be a writer.  I wish I had the luxury.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and call "Aliens of Extraordinary Ability" by Taiye Selasi a weak spot.  It's stylish and while not exactly pretentious, seems to take itself a bit too seriously as "art."  It's not bad, but it just seems calculated.  I don't remember very much about it.

"One, Maybe Two Minutes from Fire" by Tea Obreht--I am very tempted to move this into the next section, but ultimately I cannot.  It's got a great ending, on top of everything else.  It's about being a victim of a scam.  There needs to be more literature about victimhood.  Not just woe-is-me victimhood, but God, I'm-so-fucking-dumb victimhood.  Great story, and its placement in this review is faulty.

"Service/Non-Service: How Bartenders See New Yorkers" by Rosie Schaap is more like a special newspaper article or essay than an anthology essay, but most of the truisms about the service industry remain relevant.  I still don't know how anybody makes it in the service industry, unless you spend your whole life (i.e. 60 hours a week, not 60 years) at the business in question, or unless it's a ridiculously expensive place.

"Mixed Media, Dimensions Variable" by Michael Salu, I put in the same category as the Selasi story.  It's a little more ambitious than it has any business being.  I think it's actually a bit better than the Selasi story, but I would not put it in the next section.

"Zapata Blvd" by Valeria Luiselli, "Seeking" by Victor Lavalle, and "Walt Whitman on Further Lane" by Mark Doty, can round out the "yawns" for me.  As you can see, these anthology reviews get difficult because I do not want to give anyone short shrift.  Doty's essay on Whitman and Long Island does have some pretty amazing insights, and some great surprises, but overall I found its tone to be off.  Like, when literature/poetry PhDs try to make criticism interesting for the lay reader.  "Zapata" is about being vaguely revolutionary, and there was a nice image or two in it--certainly I would not call it bad, but I found it disjointed.  "Seeking" is actually quite good--though not as good as "One, Maybe Two Minutes from Fire."  It's actually an incredibly deep essay about whether or not God exists.  Worthwhile for anyone that still contemplates philosophical problems.

I'm conflicted about whether to put both "First Avenue & Second Street" by Hannah Tinti and "Traveling to Brooklyn" by Lydia Davis in this section or next.  I guess they belong in the next.

Because they barely make this list, the last two stories should be mentioned first.  Both of them fall squarely in the realm of creative non-fiction.  I'm not sure which one is better, but I'm inclined to pick Davis.

Tinti's is very good, but it is pretty much just about one of her co-tenants.  Kind of a character study.  But it's a building near the Library, a good dive bar at 1st & 1st, and a handful of my friends moved out of the dorms after freshman year and got places in the East Village, and the memories of the Towers being there, and then not being there, made me nostalgic for that brief time that I shared in that wonderful area (even though it was only about 10 blocks north of that corner that I almost got mugged in 2002)

Davis's is great, because it reflects upon the nature of her fantasy, and how it has changed as she has aged, and then hits on a specific incident that happened recently on the subway around South Brooklyn.  Basically, it is a personal essay par excellence, a near-perfect prototype of what one should write for a college essay, perhaps.  Okay, the subject matter would not necessarily be great, but the way it's so beautifully written would get an admit from any admissions officer (this is why I think we studied personal essays as a form in high school).

Bill Cheng's entry, "Engine," is one of the best in the collection, though two others are better because they don't end on a kind-of-awkward last sentence.  Basically, this story is a complete well of misery, with some quite graphic descriptions of medical maladies, silly jobs, and lack of self-worth.  It's not very long, but it will punch you in the gut.  For a person such as myself, that can identify quite strongly with the subject matter (even if I haven't worked in a movie theater), it is the sort of thing I need to read to remind myself that life can be just as frustrating for others:

"I don't know how to talk about money.  It's one of those things we can't seem to get shook of.  As much as we pretend it doesn't matter, it sets the stage for all our relationships.  What I have, what you don't--all of it bound up in our identity, our careers, our ambition, our self-worth.
That was the gall of this first job, the improbability of being seen, how a stranger could just look at you and shrink you down into nothing.  I was in college.  I wanted to be a writer.  I considered myself intelligent, ambitious, sensitive, with a full inner life.  But every day wore me down to the nub until I carried in me a reservoir of abiding hate.
One summer at the theater, I spotted someone I knew from high school lining up at my register.  He had gone to college upstate, and now he was back for the break.  He looked good: lean, tan, handsome.
He recognized me.
Hey, Billy, how are you?
And it wasn't embarrassment but rage prickling at my face.
I pressed the bottoms of my hands to the counter.
I glared at him.
Would you like to try our super combo? (163)

The final two stories I loved for similar reasons.  The first is "Every Night a Little Death," by Patrick Ryan.  It concerns the travails of a team of graveyard shift proofreaders at a large law firm.  The story is just hilarious and it made me laugh more than anything else in the collection.  It seems completely over the top.  I know that many of these entries are essays, or pieces of creative non-fiction, and some of them are works of complete fiction.  I really could not decide where to categorize this piece.  Certainly, it reads like creative non-fiction, but it's so extreme that it has to be fiction.

Cue person chiming in that life is often stranger than fiction.

I just don't believe someone who would come into work every night wearing a clown wig would get so upset about office propriety.  It is slightly more believable that a person would bring a stuffed chimpanzee into work with her--slightly--but not that she would use such a toy as a weapon of assault.  Frankly, I wish I worked in an office where such shenanigans were commonplace.

"I'd never had a job in the corporate world before.  I'd been a house-painter, a waiter, a stockroom clerk, an English teacher, a bartender.  The graveyard shift seemed a fitting place for me to land, given that I'd just moved from the 'sleepy' South to the city that never sleeps--an exciting change for me, though most of my friends back home had told me I was being foolish.  'New York?' one of them had asked.  'Really? I hope you have a lot of money, and a lot of tears.'
Another, pulling up beside me at a traffic light, had rolled down his window to shake his head and holler, 'That place is going to chew you up, spit you out, and piss on you.'
'I'll tell you exactly what's going to happen,' an older, chain-smoking neighbor had said as I was helping him sort his recycling.  'You're going to fuck up your life beyond belief, and you're going to be back here in six months--probably addicted to heroin.'
All of which made me more determined than ever to succeed (success meaning only my not having to move back south in six months).  I took the job.  I even decided graveyard shift had an impressive ring to it.  Responsible people worked the graveyard shift.  Guys who wore matching-cap-and-jacket uniforms and carried lunchboxes worked the graveyard shift.  Copyeditors in newsrooms, security guards who shone flashlights into warehouses, EMTs who stanched gunshot wounds--these were the secret heroes who kept the gears of the world turning while everyone else snoozed.
I was thirty-three and living in New York.  I had an illegal sublet on the upper west side that was mine for another two months, and I had employment.  To celebrate, I went to dinner with friends." (19-20)

This story isn't especially deep or dramatic, but it's just very entertaining from start to finish, and pretty original.  I am reminded of a book I've never read called And Then We Came to the End.  I guess that is the closest reference point.  It feels like non-fiction, but again, it's just a tad unbelievable.  It's right near the beginning of the anthology, which is brilliant sequencing.  Maybe it's not actually the second-best story in the collection, but the sequencing made me feel that was so.

The best story in the collection, then, is "Quid Pro Quo, Just as Easy as That" by Jeanne Thornton.

I'm not just saying that because it has a transgender narrator.  I am definitely not playing that game.

This is straight-up creative non-fiction.  Unlike Ryan's story, none of it strikes me as too absurd to be true.

Can I profess some ignorance?  I still get really confused when transgender people identify themselves.  The narrator in this story is a trans woman.  I need to think for a second to make sure I get it right.  They were born male, but transitioned to female.  Whether they have undergone hormone treatment or not is unclear in this story.  To be honest, it doesn't matter.  The transgender issue is almost secondary to the poverty issue.  Just looking at the first two pages of this story, every sentence begs to be excerpted.  Because of my obsession with monthly expenses, I must excerpt the very end of that second page, and the top 1/3 of the third page:

"It was a flush time for me in New York City.  According to invoices I still have, I was making the sweet sum of $12 per hour and working enough to clear about $1600 every month.  The rent at the time was $1100, which I split evenly with a roommate.  My share of the bills was usually about $125 total, and the Metrocard rate $100 per month.  I knew of a cheap grocery store and cooked when I could.  I smoked back then too, a hideously expensive habit at $13 a pack in NYC.  So I'd switched to smoking three of four 'lucies' a day at $0.75 per cigarette, or $2 for three, from the grocery store just down the street from me that kept lookouts.  Sometimes you could run across illicit cig pushers on the streets--especially, for some reason, on Roosevelt Island--who'd let you have a whole fat pack of Delaware-smuggled Newports for seven bucks.  A devotee of The Richest Man in Babylon, I kept back about $100 or $200 from each paycheck to put into a savings fund, though I inevitably ran out of money every three or four months--food, doctor bills, miscellany--and had to raid it back to zero.  But it all worked."  (113-114)

So it seems, finally, here is another person that makes the same sorts of observations I do, and has similar concerns.  Perhaps this is why I feel this is the best story in the collection.

This story is about the narrator herself, her boss at the publishing company where she works, and her friend that sleeps on her couch (her roommate, who paid the other $550, moved to Chicago to work for Groupon, and paid the next couple of months to be nice).  There is a footnote about "All My Friends" by LCD Soundsystem.  The story is about everything and nothing.  It's a story whose style, tone, structure and plot I'd like to emulate.  The only thing that slightly annoyed me about it was that the narrator would not reveal what her friend wrote on Facebook:

"Friends--without exception, female friends--began to tell me explicitly that they would not come over to see me when my friend was at the apartment.  After the Facebook message incident, my friend was not a big fan of women, and he liked to discuss this with other women whom I was friends with.  He would discuss it with me, too.  In part this was because I hesitated to defend myself as a woman to him, and because I don't think he particularly thought of me as one anyway.  (As evidence of this, the time he laughed at me and said you're a dude.)" (117)

Ultimately I think this is one of the most entertaining stories in the anthology, and while the ending may be one of failure, it feels happier than that, like the narrator will be going on to better things.

So we come to the end of this lengthy review.  I think this book makes an excellent gift for any person moving to New York for the first time.  The only question is whether it will be eternally relevant, or if NYC will completely transform itself in 20 years.  This may be sold for a buck on tables arrayed on various streets in Greenwich Village in five years, but it is a worthwhile project for capturing the city at a crucial time in history.

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