I may have enjoyed a present more than this, but I was probably about two feet tall at the time. I was completely absorbed in Wonderful Town, from John Cheever’s amazing commuter thriller opener “The five-forty-eight” to David Schickler’s “The smoker” about the love between a high school teacher and one of his students. That story brings to a close 508 pages of apartment living, murder, birth, endless restaurants, numerous pets, students, psychiatrists, work, work and more work – a glorious jumble of New York living. Even if you hate the place, you gotta love these slices of it.
This is primarily a picture of white and Jewish life in uptown New York, with almost every other ethnic group under-represented (Edwidge Danticat’s poignant tale of a Haitian nurse in “Water child” is one of several notable exceptions). I think that’s OK though, since the collection is supposed to be the best stories about the city from 75 years of the New Yorker and that was the perspective of the magazine during those years. I don’t think it would have been a good idea to have sacrificed quality for political correctness.
In general the standard is amazingly high. My sorrow at reacing the end of one little tale was always tempered by the knowledge that another cast of New Yorkers was about to open before me as soon as I turned the page (Woody Allen’s weak effort was one of the few disappointments).
The stories are not arranged chronologically (in fact I have no idea why the book is arranged as it is) and that is one of the minor pleasures of reading them – guessing the year of publication, which is not revealed until the final line.
Last night I picked Wonderful Town up for the first time since finishing it and I was on page 79 before I put it down again. I guess you can’t ask for more than that.
Thanks for the Valentine’s, Frayed.