It’s absurd to begin to review a book before you have finished it. A work of art doesn’t exist in pieces. It is a whole journey, with the quality of the start informed by the final destination. But I am a third of the way into The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin and it has evoked feelings in me that I think anyone who has ever lived in or just simply loved New York can relate to.
It is unique amongst the Jemisin novels that I have read in that it is set in a real, modern place that is familiar and concrete. And yet one of the things that speaks to her talent is that despite this difference, her voice is clear and profound. Her voice is familiar as it is throughout all of her work, without feeling repetitive or overly-self-referential. It is just as weird and magical as anything else she has written. This is appropriate because New York itself is weird and magical.
It’s been ten years since I lived in New York City and I doubt I will ever live there again but I will love it until the day I die. It exists underneath my skin and I will always feel that quiet call to disappear in its streets again.
I recall a conversation in a midtown café with a working class man – not looking to hit on the college freshman he was sharing a table with – just looking for connection in a post-9/11 world.
I recall the couple I happened to notice on the subway one morning on my regular commute to class. I don’t know why I noticed them. I guess because they were maybe in their twenties and there weren’t many other young adults in my neighborhood. And I had never noticed them before. Then we happened to be on the same train 9 hours later. They were the ones who helped me when I fainted on the train. They said they remembered seeing me that morning. Helped me off the train. Made sure I made it home safely. I never saw them again.
I recall riding the Staten Island ferry to Staten Island just because. And immediately turning around and riding it right back to Manhattan.
I recall planning to ride the Staten Island ferry but getting on the wrong train because this line was running on that line due to construction. So we changed our plans and went to Coney Island instead.
I recall taking the bus over the Triborough Bridge and through Harlem to get to church on Sundays.
I recall nights in strange bars, weird art exhibits, rock shows, strolls along the river bank. Walking through the South Bronx in the middle of the night. Listening to poetry. Eating softshell crab sandwiches and drinking mimosas at brunch. Smoking hookah in shops frequented by middle aged Turkish men. Trying any food once. Getting sushi delivered at midnight.
Anyone who has lived in or loved New York City could fill a Bible with all of the things that make it the City to them personally. I visited a few years ago and a lot of it was different. But just enough of it was still It that it felt like home. Walking through Times Square at night. Commiserating with another single mom on the subway. Eating a falafel sandwich from a food truck. It is changing, yes. And in some ways for the worst. But it is still alive. It is still New York City.
What are your favorite memories/experiences in New York City?