Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Forgive me in advance for indulging in a hopeless rant. Over the weekend I read a review of yet another book about New Yorkers, set in Manhattan, by an author who lives in Brooklyn. I’d told myself previously that if I ever read another review of another book about New Yorkers, set in Manhattan, by an author who lives in Brooklyn I would pluck my eyeballs out with a fondu fork. Unfortunately, I’ve misplaced my set of fondu forks (along with my fondu pot and any desire to eat fondu ever again), so I’ll have to placate myself by merely ranting. Consider it a symbolic globe luxation (and look that up while you’re at it). It irks me that the publishing business is so New York-centric. I don’t know when this phenomenon began, but I think it’s a 20th century thing, probably post-WWII. Lots of great American novels were set all over the country before that, from Hannibal, MO, to fictional Winesburg, Ohio. We glimpsed literary life in San Francisco, New England, the deep south, the southwest, or on a boat — almost every locale you can think of. Occasionally, too, New York City, but not incessantly. Not to the exclusion of everyplace else. Somewhere in there, the business became myopic and narcissistic, and in the minds of writers and editors the New York scene became a metaphor for all American life. We didn’t need to imagine characters eking out a pointless existence in Omaha, for example (and not just because New Yorkers can’t possibly imagine that life), because whatever they’re going through can be more effectively blown up and exaggerated in a New York story. By an author who lives in Brooklyn. I know. You can point to a hundred books not set in Manhattan. A thousand. And I’ll have to grant you that. It’s just that every time I read a review in any of the big book review sources — the great arbiters of our book culture — there’s yet another book about New Yorkers, set in Manhattan, by an author who lives in Brooklyn. I’m sick of it. I fart in New York’s general direction. I’m reminded, apropos of this nearsightedness, of how James Wilcox, a fine, funny southern writer, had to bend over backwards and set a novel in New York so that he could get it published. And this after several books of his had done well. (His editor told him to plug in some gays too, but that’s another matter.) Wilcox had created the remarkable and original world of Tula Springs, Louisiana, most memorably in Modern Baptists, but his New York overseers determined that it would be better if he wrote about New York. Where did I put those goddamn fondu forks? From now on I’m officially boycotting books about New Yorkers, set in Manhattan, by authors who live in Brooklyn. Who’s with me?