Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker (Modern Library Paperbacks)

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9780375757525: Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker (Modern Library Paperbacks)

New York City is not only The New Yorker's place of origin and its sensibility's lifeblood; it is the heart of American literary culture. Wonderful Town collects superb short fiction by many of the magazine's and this country's most accomplished writers. Like all good fiction, these stories take particular places, particular people, and particular events and turn them into dramas of universal enlightenment and emotional impact. Here New York is every great place and every ordinary place. Each life in it, and each life in Wonderful Town, is the life of us all.

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"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

From the Back Cover:


Goings On About Town

"Sally and Lueger walked slowly down Twelfth Street. Lueger had his arm around Sally's waist. 'That was a very fine film tonight,' he was saying. 'I enjoy Deanna Durbin. Very young, fresh, sweet. Like you.'"
--"Sailor off the Bremen," by Irwin Shaw

"At Thirty-fourth Street, a young man got on, and slid into the seat beside the girl. 'Hello, Helpless,' he said. "'Helpless is a kind name for it,' she said."
--"Apartment Hotel," by Sally Benson

"He shouldered the bags himself and assumed the burden of seeing La Guardia Airport and New York City and his life and his clothes and body through the disappointed eyes of his parents. He noticed, as if for the first time, the dirty linoleum, the assassinlike chauffeurs holding up signs with other people's names on them, the snarl of wires dangling from a hole in the ceiling."
--"The Failure," by Jonathan Franzen

"I got into an elevator, something I had never done before, and then I was in an apartment and seated at a table, eating food just taken from a refrigerator. In Antigua, where I came from, I had always lived in a house, and my house did not have a refrigerator in it."

--"Poor Visitor," by Jamaica Kincaid

"After I got my hair cut at High Style 2000 on Lexington Avenue, I was hit by a car. It wasn't even a very nice vehicle, just a blue-and-white Pinto....I kept staring at the license plate: it said 867-UHH." --"Physics," by Tama Janowitz

"From a striped chimney buried in the asphalt, steam shot up into the air. A few tourists were standing around it, making low Swedish sounds, amazed by our volcanic streets."

--"Baster," by Jeffrey Eugenides

"The thin galoot outside Gristede's had taken a powder when I got there; that meant we were no longer playing girls' rules. I hired a hack to Wanamaker's, cut over to Third, walked up toward Fourteenth. At Twelfth, a mink-faced jasper made up as a street cleaner tailed me for a block."
--"Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer," by S. J. Perelman

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