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.
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That's it for this time around -- the Literary Locavore will be back again soon!