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Wonderful Town New York Stories from the New Yorker
ISBN 0375503560 / 9780375503566 / 0-375-50356-0Find This Book
"Ah, what can ever be more stately and admirable to me than mast-hemm'd Manhattan?" marveled the excitable Walt Whitman in 1865. The skinny island and its four sister boroughs have continued to fascinate writers ever since, and it would be hard to find a better record of that fascination than Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker. As David Remnick explains in his foreword, the fledgling magazine paid relatively little heed to the nuts and bolts of metropolitan life, and in his original prospectus, Harold Ross didn't even mention fiction. But in the following decades, Ross and his successors published so many classic New York stories that the real challenge, according to Remnick, was whittling down the selection: "As there is barely enough room in this city to contain all of its busy, funny, angry, joyful, carping, and canny inhabitants, there was barely enough room to contain the wide range of stories we agreed upon."
So what made the grade? There are treasures from John Cheever ("The Five-Forty-Eight"), James Thurber ("The Catbird Seat"), Maeve Brennan ("I See You, Bianca"), Isaac Bashevis Singer ("The Cafeteria"), Jamaica Kincaid ("Poor Visitor"), and many others. The uptown neighborhoods appear to be more generously represented--a token, perhaps, of the magazine's well-heeled, fur-bearing readership--but from early Updike to middle-period Tama Janowitz, there are plenty of excursions south of Fourteenth Street. It's not, however, a simple matter of geography, but a kind of urban metaphysics at work. There are numerous and overlapping New Yorks represented in this collection: you'll find John Cheever's postwar paradise cheek-by-jowl with Ann Beattie's yuppie stomping ground. Then there's James Stevenson's vision of a flooded Gotham:
We are on the roof now. I have no idea what time it is, but it is daylight. The lower buildings have been submerged, the tall office buildings stand like tombstones above the heaving waves. There are whitecaps toward Central Park. An ocean liner stood by the Pan Am building for a while, then moved out to sea.... The water is swirling around the skylights now. The wind shifts. The waves are coming straight in from the Atlantic.Even in this postapocalyptic setting, New York stubbornly remains itself. A wonderful town indeed--and a wonderful collection to celebrate it. --Anita Urquhart [via]