Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | August 11, 2011

New York City from Contrasting Perspectives


Pete Hamill and Candace Bushnell release two New York-set
novels.

By Ernest Barteldes

Few writers alive today feel New York like Pete Hamill does.
Sure, he has the advantage of having lived between Brooklyn and Manhattan his
entire life, but there are countless other authors who – in spite of their
great talent – do not feel the soul of the city as he does. Maybe that has
something to do that he spent many years as a reporter and then editor for
local papers like the Post and the Daily News, when he had the opportunity to
meet all kinds of local characters outside of his Irish-American circle.

That is evidenced in his latest novel Tabloid City (278 pages, Little Brown & Co). Set in a 24-hour-period of time in present-day New York, we follow Sam Briscoe, who
edits the fictionally resurrected New York World (the paper originally founded –
in real life – by none other than Joseph Pulitzer). Briscoe yearns for the great
days of newspaper reporting, and has reached an age where he feels like time
has passed him by.  Around him are several other characters in other parts of the city that live their live apparently without being aware of those around them. Among them is Cynthia Harding, a philanthropist that has been following in the footsteps of the late Brooke Astor by doing benefits in favor of the New York Public library, an
African-American NYPD detective, a nearly blind retired artist who resides at
the Chelsea Hotel, a desperate young immigrant and an angry home-grown
terrorist in a quest for Jihad.

Almost halfway through the novel, there is a grisly murder –
and Harding is among the dead (no, this is not a spoiler – that is actually on
the cover). The crime sets a series of events in motion that lead at break-neck
speed to an ending that is incredibly surprising. You can think of this as a
mystery novel wrapped in a love letter to the city where Hamill was born that
looks into its past and its current days through various points of view.

A contrast to this is Summer in the City (Balzer + Bray, 409 pp.), Candace Bushnell’s prequel to the book that made her a household name and also made stars out of the actresses who were on the TV show. Here we see a 17-year-old Carrie Bradshaw as she comes to New York for the first time to take a writing workshop in New York. As she steps off the bus, she is immediately mugged and finds shelter in Samantha’s home. She is wide-eyed and naïve – when invited backstage at the Schubert Theater, she steps on the empty stage, opens her arms and says, ‘Hello, New York’ with the same
enthusiasm of Jay McIerney’s unnamed character of Bright Lights, Big City (at least we already know her end will not be – at least not completely – tragic).

Once in New York, she tries to find her voice as a writer
while also looking for love in the wrong places. Samantha is not yet the
man-eater she was in the series. Here she is happily engaged and looking
forward to being a wife and mother (what??), while Miranda is pictured as a
feminist who protests against pornography in front of Saks. Charlotte is not
yet in the picture – but at least we find out how these women – who have such
different backgrounds – became friends in the first place.

Like the series and movies that followed it, Bushnell’s 1984
New York (the year is not mentioned, so I did the math based on Carrie’s age at
the end of the TV series) is quite whitewashed. There is little diversity in
her writing workshop at New School, and despite the fact that many characters
(including the token gay guys) have unprotected sex, there is no mention of the
AIDS epidemic that was shaking the nation back then. There are other
inconsistencies, like the fact that Carrie takes a train from Penn Station to
visit her family back home in suburban Connecticut (that would be the
Metro-North at Grand Central).

However, I must admit that Bushnell’s writing is highly entertaining. Her conversational style makes the pages turn quite quickly, It’s not a deep reading experience or anything like that, but the kind of book you just want to pick up and enjoy leisurely.

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