Slipping riotously through time like a virus loose in the bloodstream and touching on everything from show tunes and divas (the variety that plays the Met, not top 40 radio) to cruising spots and tanning advice, does James McCourt’s latest book, Lasting City, live up to its cheeky designation: “The anatomy of nostalgia”? Absolutely.

Any summary of a work like this requires a caveat: Summary misses the point entirely. Suffice it to say, our narrator (the author) heeds his dying mother’s advice to “tell everything.” Notably, there was no mandate to tell it chronologically. Instead, McCourt’s inventive take on the memoir organizes itself—if at all—around free-association word games, punning off of popular expressions. One memorable passage takes up the various ways Kid can be used, as in -gloves, -napped, etc. It’s equal parts Joyce and Faulkner’s Benji with a little Proust tossed in for seasoning. But at the heart of this discursive remembrance of things past is the lasting city itself. Post-war New York. Its provenance is traced and its culture catalogued. The latter most entertainingly in erudite anecdotes about the Great White Way, a scene the author’s mother, Kitty, was intimately familiar with. Like New York City, McCourt’s unconventional memoir feels like a work simultaneously complete and still in progress. It’s antic and self-referential, desperate and at peace, existing in its entirety on each page. It’s a circle. It’s a black hole. A tautology. And it’s very good, though not without its frustrations. Close reading is a requirement, as is a willingness to allow the unfamiliar to wash over you. This book is chockablock full of insider information that will reward the cultural anthropologist.

 

Lasting City: The Anatomy of Nostalgia
By James McCourt
Liveright
Paperback, 9780871404589, 336 pp.
October 2013



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