New York, New York

Maureen Corrigan’s review of The Scientists yesterday at NPR makes an interesting claim in its first paragraph. Marco Roth’s new memoir of growing up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the Eighties nudges Corrigan into a taxonomy of New York literature:

Every New York story ever written or filmed falls into one of two categories. The first — like Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or the musical On the Town — regards New York as the representative American city, a jam-packed distillation of the country’s dreams and nightmares. The second group views New York as a foreign place — a city off the coast of the U.S. mainland that somehow drifted away from Paris or Mars.

The normal response to any two-part invention like this is to begin coughing up exceptions. (What about Edith Wharton’s Old New York? The Lower East Side and Jewish Brooklyn of Anzia Yezierska, Henry Roth, and Daniel Fuchs? The Harlem of Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin? The Queens of Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker?) The protesting sputter of exceptions may be the whole purpose of such an exercise, which can’t stand up to logical scrutiny on its own. To divide every “story ever written” into just two categories is to invite you to think about the stories carefully and in detail.

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New York, New York

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